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At least 300 people have died in eastern and central India and more than 6 million others have been affected by floods that have submerged villages, washed away crops, destroyed roads and disrupted power and phone lines, officials said Tuesday.
Heavy monsoon rains have caused rivers, including the mighty Ganges and its tributaries, to burst their banks, forcing people into relief camps in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
Government officials in Bihar, which has seen some of the worst flooding this year, with almost 120 dead and more than 5 million affected, said the situation was serious.
"The flood waters have engulfed low-lying areas, homes and fields of crops," said Zafar Rakib, a district magistrate of Katihar, which is among 24 out of Bihar's 38 districts that have been hit by the deluge.
"We have shifted people to higher ground, and they are being provided with cooked rice, clean drinking water, polythene sheets," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, where 43 people have died and more than 1 million others are affected, schools were closed in the cities of Varanasi and Allahabad as both the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers crossed danger levels and flood waters continued to rise.
The holy city of Varanasi, to which thousands of Hindus flock daily, was also forced to halt cremations along the banks of sacred Ganges River — forcing families to cremate their relatives on the terrace roofs of nearby houses, officials said.
Television pictures showed villagers wading waist deep in floodwaters with their livestock, mud-and-brick homes collapsing and people climbing into wooden boats to get to relief camps.
"We are all worried about what we should do. For the last four days, we have living like this. We don't even have any food to eat," Doda Yadav, 42, told NDTV news from Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh.
India usually experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture — making up 18 percent of its gross domestic product and providing jobs for almost half its 1.3 billion population.
But in many states, the rains frequently cause landslides and flooding that devastate crops, destroy homes and expose people to diseases such as diarrhea.
The devastation prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer additional support from the federal government.
"I pray for the safety and well-being of those in areas affected by floods," Modi said in a statement Monday.