People return home as floodwaters recede in India

Thousands of hungry and exhausted people waded back to their mud-filled homes from relief camps Tuesday as floodwaters began receding in remote northeastern India.

Nearly half a million people took refuge in camps set up in government buildings as the worst monsoon floods to hit Assam state in a decade devastated the region, killing 95 people and leaving 14 others missing.

Soldiers were using helicopters and speedboats to supply food and drinking water to the nearly 2 million people affected by the floods, which began last week, army Lt. Col. N.N. Joshi said.

With the waters receding, local officials were considering ways to dispose of the rotting carcasses of hundreds of thousands of cattle that perished. Joshi said soldiers and local officials would help bury dead animals to prevent the spread of disease.

In Sonitpur, one of the worst-hit districts, the stench of dead animals was overpowering.

"I am waiting for the water to go down some more before we can remove the carcasses," said Bhim Bahadur, a dairy farmer in Phateki village in Sonitpur, as he sprinkled powdered lime around his house as a disinfectant.

Bahadur said more than a dozen of his cows were swept away by the Brahmaputra River thundering nearby. The bodies of some of the animals could be seen entangled in a bamboo thicket some distance from his house.

"One of the embankments of the river burst, and the water washed into the house and fields, taking away everything," he said.

His daughter-in-law Sabita Debi was trying to dry some papers that had been soaked. "We've lost all our land documents and school certificates," she said.

Joshi said army doctors and local medical teams were visiting the relief camps to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases. "We are handing out anti-malaria pills and distributing disinfectants," he said.

All 27 districts in Assam have been affected by the floods. Tens of thousands of hectares (acres) of rice and other crops have been washed away in the floods, which began June 27 with torrential monsoon rains.

The head of India's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew over the affected areas on Monday. Singh announced assistance of 5 billion rupees ($90 million) from the national government to help the state cope with the emergency.

Monsoon floods hit Assam, with a population of 26 million people, almost every year, with heavy rains swelling the Brahmaputra and its many tributaries that crisscross the state.