updated 1/17/2009 3:31:28 PM ET 2009-01-17T20:31:28

A herd of nearly 150 hungry elephants rampaged through a village in India's remote northeast, trampling to death a young family as they slept in their hut, a resident and a wildlife official said Saturday.

The Asiatic elephants destroyed four homes in Assam state's Karbi Anglong village Friday night, said resident Rimi Marak.

"The herd was just too large. The villagers could do nothing," Marak said. A farmer, his wife and their 5-year-old daughter died in the incident, he said.

The herd left a nearby forest reserve in search of food nearly two weeks ago, said state forestry officer M.K. Dhar.

Forest guards had tried in vain to drive the elephants back using firecrackers and lighting torches, Dhar told The Associated Press.

The region is home to some 5,000 wild elephants, whose natural habitat has been increasingly diminished by human development. Conservationists say wild elephant attacks have killed more than 700 people in Assam in the past 17 years.

"We take pride at the large elephant population in our region, but the increasing man-elephant conflict following the shrinkage in their habitat due to the growing human population is turning out to be a huge challenge," said Pradyut Bordoloi, a former state forest and environment minister.

Imagery by the National Remote Sensing Agency shows that nearly 691,880 acres (280,000 hectares) of thick forests in Assam state were illegally cleared for human settlements from 1996 to 2000.

In 2001, villagers in Sonitpur district poisoned to death 19 wild elephants after the hungry animals feasted on standing crops and demolished several homes.

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