GAUHATI, India – Raging floodwaters fed by monsoon rains have inundated more than 2,000 villages in northeast India, sweeping away homes and leaving hundreds of thousands of people marooned Friday. At least 27 people were killed, but the toll was expected to rise.
The Indian air force was delivering food packages to people huddled on patches of dry land along with cattle and wild elephants. Rescuers were dropped by helicopter into affected areas to help the stranded, but pouring rain was complicating operations.
About 1 million people have had to evacuate their homes as the floods from the swollen Brahmaputra River — one of Asia's largest — swamped 2,084 villages across most of Assam state, officials said.
Assam's flooded capital of Gauhati was hit by mudslides that buried three people. Many of the city's 2 million residents were negotiating the submerged streets in rubber dinghies and small wooden boats. Most businesses were closed.
Officials have counted 27 people dead so far, but the toll is expected to be much higher as unconfirmed casualty reports mount. Many of the victims so far have drowned, including five people whose boat capsized amid choppy waves.
Telephone lines were knocked out and some train services were canceled after their tracks were swamped by mud. As the floods soaked the Kaziranga game reserve east of Gauhati, motorists reported seeing a one-horned rhino fleeing along a busy highway.
"We never thought the situation would turn this grim when the monsoon-fed rivers swelled a week ago," said Nilomoni Sen Deka, an Assam government minister.
Residents of Majuli — an 800-square-kilometer (310-square-mile) island in the middle of the Brahmaputra River — watched helplessly as the swirling, gray waters swallowed 50 villages and swept away their homes.
"We are left with only the clothes we are wearing," said 60-year-old Puniram Hazarika, one of about 75,000 island residents now camping in makeshift shelters of bamboo sticks and plastic tarps on top of a mud embankment soaked by rain.
Ratna Payeng, who was sheltering with her three small children in the camps, said she was praying for the rains to stop.
"If they don't, our land will become unfit for cultivation and everything will be lost," Payeng said.
Nearby, a herd of 70 endangered Asiatic elephants, which usually avoid humans, were grouped together, Majuli island wildlife official Atul Das said. "The jumbos have not caused any harm, but we are keeping a close watch," he said.
In neighboring Nepal, landslides also triggered by monsoon rains killed at least eight people Thursday night and left two others missing.