South Asia Monsoons Kill More Than 200, Displace Millions

Helicopters dropped food to almost 2 million marooned villagers in India on Saturday as the death toll from unusually heavy monsoon rains and floods in South Asia crossed 200, officials said.

At least 229 people have been killed in India and neighboring Bangladesh, and 19 million driven from their homes in recent days.

The number of dead in Bangladesh rose to 81 Saturday, up from 65 a day earlier, the country's information ministry said in a statement. Raging floodwaters have battered 38 out of 64 districts in the delta nation of 145 million people.

Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of Bangladesh's military-backed interim government, visited the northwestern district of Sirajganj on Saturday to see flood-affected areas.

Ahmed said the government had adequate stocks of food and medicine to distribute and foreign assistance wasn't yet needed.

Villager Aleya Begum, 45, took shelter on an embankment with more than 50 families in Pabna district, 75 miles north of the capital, Dhaka, after their homes were washed away.

She said the group was short of drinking water. "I've lost everything. We need help from the government to survive," Begum said.

Low-lying areas around Dhaka were under neck-deep water, and many residents were using boats to travel around the city. The government's Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said water levels in and around the capital continued to rise Saturday.

The South Asian monsoon season runs from June to September as the rains work their way across the subcontinent. It's always dangerous -- last year more than 1,000 people died, most from drowning, landslides or house collapses.

This year, estimates of total deaths vary wildly from a few hundred to more than a thousand.

Helicopters dropped food to nearly 2 million people in 2,200 villages cut off by floodwaters in the worst-hit eastern parts of India's Uttar Pradesh, said Umesh Sinha, the state relief commissioner. He said nearly 279,223 acres (113,000 hectares) of rice paddy crops had been destroyed.

On Saturday, the water level of flooded rivers started receding in India's northeastern Assam state. But there was no such respite in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states.

Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh's top elected official, said India and neighboring Nepal had signed a treaty in 1996 to solve the water problem by building dams and hydropower projects.

However, the projects have yet to take off. "The federal government has turned a blind eye to the recurring floods in the state," said Mayawati, who uses one name.

In Uttar Pradesh over the past two days, two villagers were killed when a house collapsed, two children were swept away by floodwaters, and one person was killed by a snake bite, said Surender Shrivastav, a state official.

With hundreds of villages submerged across the fertile plains that stretch along the southern edge of the Himalayas, people were taking refuge wherever they could. In Uttar Pradesh, women and children were spotted screaming for help from treetops.

Health workers were fanning out across parts of Bangladesh and India to try to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases like diarrhea, typhoid and cholera.

So far this year, some 14 million people in India and 5 million in Bangladesh have been displaced or marooned by flooding, according to government figures. At least 148 people have died in recent days because of the floods in India and 81 more in Bangladesh.

India's Meteorological Department said unusual monsoon patterns this year have led to heavier than normal rains.