Floods that swept eastern Ethiopia (search) have killed 134 people, a senior government official said Monday, describing the floods as the worst to have hit eastern Ethiopia for 40 years.

The number of people affected has also risen to more than 218,000, up from 105,000 people counted on Sunday as affected by the floodwaters in the country's Somali region, which washed away 863 houses, said Remedan Haji Ahmed (search), who heads the government's emergency response in the area.

"This is the worst flood in 40 years," Haji told The Associated Press from the Somali regional capital, Jijiga. "Although we had severe flooding in 2003 it did not affect as many areas or kill as many people."

In 2003, 119 people died in the last major floods in Ethiopia.

"We think we have seen the worst of it but the rains are continuing and the number of deaths could rise further," Haji said.

On April 23, the Wabe Shebelle (search) river in the eastern Somali region burst its banks after two days of heavy rains, crashing through 40 villages and sweeping families away.

Heavy rains and severe flooding have hit three quarters of the nine districts in the remote Somali region, which is the size of Britain, Haji said.

He said that thousands remained homeless after fleeing the torrent.

Weather forecasters are predicting continued thunderstorms in the rain-battered region, some 435 miles southeast of the capital Addis Ababa.

The Somali region usually suffers from severe droughts, with average rainfall of a little over 10 inches a year.

Flooding regularly occurs at this time of the year in the Somali region and the waters are used to regenerate soil for pasture.