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Indian villagers desperate as floods spread

Villagers were eating uncooked rice and flour mixed with polluted water in an eastern Indian state, officials said Friday, as hunger and diseases accompanied the worst floods in 50 years.
/ Source: Reuters

Villagers were eating uncooked rice and flour mixed with polluted water in an eastern Indian state, officials said on Friday, as hunger and diseases accompanied the worst-ever floods in 50 years.

The Kosi river burst a dam in neighboring Nepal earlier this month and surged into Bihar state, swamping village after village as authorities failed to evacuate millions on time.

At least 10 more people drowned overnight, raising the toll to 65, as the rising river waters smashed embankments and flooded vast areas in the eastern state, officials said.

More than two million people in distant villages in Bihar have been displaced and around a quarter of a million houses have been destroyed. Many have no means to cook food.

Thousands of people, with all their belongings on their heads, walked away from their flooded homes through narrow and submerged roads. Many children rode on their cows and buffaloes.

"We've lost our homes, we've lost our clothes, we've lost everything ...," said Bijender, a villager walking along a road with his child.

"We are taking our children and leaving and we don't even know where we are going."

Water levels continued to rise amid heavy rains. The water could stay for around three months, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases.

Some experts blame the floods on heavier monsoon rains caused by global warming, while others say authorities have failed to take preventive measures and improve infrastructure.

"My hungry children are crying and we are eating raw rice without boiling it," said Amit Kumar from Supaul district, the worst-hit by floods this year.

Some are eating corn flour mixed with water to survive.

"I know how villagers are somehow managing to keep themselves alive by eating whatever food is available to them," Nitish Mishra, the state disaster management minister, told Reuters.

"It is not easy to distribute food to over two million displaced villagers, I know their condition."

Officials said bad weather and strong currents were preventing them from providing aid to remote areas.

Television pictures showed a woman crying and waving at her husband, who could not find a place in a boat that was evacuating villagers.

Another woman was seen hugging her child as dozens in waist-deep water pleaded with the boatman to rescue them.

Surging waters have swamped 250,000 acres of farmlands, destroying wheat and rice crops, officials said.

Helpless villagers have grabbed boats, planks or have taken refuge on rooftops to save themselves from floods.

Some set their cattle loose before fleeing as the animals had gone without food for days.

Diseases like diarrhea were reported from many government-run camps in the state, which agencies like the UNICEF say was still way below the required standards.

"The camps are not organized yet and we are receiving reports of diseases," said Mukesh Puri of the UNICEF.

Floods have killed more than 1,000 people in South Asia since the monsoon set in June, mainly in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 725 people lost their lives and other deaths were reported from Nepal and Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, flew over devastated areas by helicopter on Thursday and announced $228 million as aid.