At Least 139 Dead After Monsoon Rains, Floods in India

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Monsoon rains triggered floods and caused houses to collapse in western and southern India, killing at least 139 people in recent days, an official said Tuesday.

Some 650,000 people have also been forced from their homes to higher ground in western, southern and eastern India, parts of which have been inundated by the annual rains, officials said.

Of those who died in recent days, 97 were killed in the western state of Maharashtra, said the state's director general of information, Manisha Mhaiskar.

At least 45 of those deaths came in flooding in the past two days after the Godavari River burst its banks, and the river "continues to be in unprecedented flood situation," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

CountryWatch: India

Several low lying areas in Bombay, India's financial hub and Maharashtra's capital, were also flooded, the statement said.

The situation was so bad in two Maharashtra towns — Hingoli and Nanded — that "almost all evacuations of people marooned were done by helicopter. The current is so strong that boats cannot reach people," Mhaiskar said. Nearly all those killed were swept away in floods or crushed by collapsing houses, she said.

"Last year, we spent a lot of money doing up our house but now it's filled with gutter water," Sushma Swami, resident of a shantytown in Dhapoli, 90 miles south of Bombay, said by telephone. "We are 130 families affected by the floods ... and we can't move out at all."

The monsoon has killed at least 521 people across India this year, with most drowning in floods, being crushed under landslides and collapsing houses, or by getting electrocuted. However, many areas don't keep accurate death tolls, and the total number of people killed in the country is likely much higher.

Officials in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh said Tuesday that at least 42 people had died there in the previous six days, with most of the fatalities occurring in coastal areas cut off by flooding. In all, 106 people have died in Andhra Pradesh since the start of the monsoon in June.

More than 150 villages across four districts of the state have been completely cut off by the floods in recent days. Air force helicopters and navy boats were trying to rescue stranded villagers or drop food to them, said Debebrata Kantha, the state's disaster management commissioner.

Rail and road travel has also been either canceled or severely limited in many parts because of the rains, and anger was rising among people who blame the authorities for not adequately preparing for the annual monsoon, which starts in June and ends in September.

"This has become a routine affair. Our children can't go to school when it rains heavily and our house gets filled with water. This is the third straight year this has happened and no one seems to bother," said Renu Shah, who lives on the outskirts of Pune, a city 100 miles south of Bombay.

In the western state of Gujarat, meanwhile, large areas of the trading town of Surat were flooded by waters from the rising Tapi River, and authorities were asking people to leave their homes.