Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jun 19, 10:14 AM EDT

Indian rescuers scramble to reach deluged villages

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AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout

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Monsoon Floods

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CALCUTTA, India (AP) -- Soldiers and rescue workers rushed to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people stranded in eastern India by monsoon floods that have killed at least 38 people in the past week, officials said Thursday.

The floods destroyed bridges, washed out major highways and sent villagers fleeing for higher ground in the state of West Bengal, where the death toll rose to nine, state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said.

Five others have been missing for over three days, Dasgupta said.

Authorities were arranging to bring in helicopters to drop food to the state's hardest-hit districts, he said.

About 300 soldiers have been called in to help in the state, local official Kalyan Mitra said.

Officials said they feared West Bengal did not have enough rescue supplies.

"There is an acute shortage of speed boats and relief material," Mitra said. "The pace of rescue work has been slowed down."

Weather forecasters predicted more rain in coming days.

Floods in neighboring Orissa state killed two people and marooned more than 200,000 in about 300 villages, said Manmohan Samal, the state revenue minister.

In the past week, 19 deaths were reported from mudslides and house collapses in Arunachal Pradesh state, while eight fatalities were reported in the state of Assam.

Monsoon rains usually hit India from June to September. Farmers depend on them for their crops, which feed hundreds of millions of people in the country.

However, the monsoons also bring massive destruction across the country. Flooding, house collapses and other rain-related incidents kill thousands of people each year.

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