CALCUTTA, India – Air force helicopters and rescue workers in boats struggled to provide relief Friday to nearly 3 million people affected by monsoon floods that have ravaged eastern India, killing at least 54 people.
More than five days of near-constant rains in the region have triggered landslides, blocked major highways and sent thousands of villagers fleeing for higher ground.
In the state of West Bengal, where the death toll has risen to 25, more than 2 million people in the worst-affected areas are stranded in their villages, state Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee said.
More than 50,000 people have been moved to government shelters on higher ground, state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said.
Five Indian air force helicopters spent the day Friday dropping food packets in the flood-hit areas, said Group Capt. R.K. Das, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry.
Floods in neighboring Orissa state have stranded more than more than 800,000 in about 300 villages and left two people dead, said Manmohan Samal, the state revenue minister.
He said the government was using boats and helicopters to take villagers to higher ground and to ferry in relief supplies, but the rains have abated and the flood waters were starting to recede.
In the past week, 19 deaths were reported from landslides 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 to the country. Flooding, landslides and other rain-related incidents kill thousands of people each year.