India floods: 213 killed in Gujarat as receding waters reveal
Severe monsoon flooding has killed 213 people in western India with officials fearing the death toll would rise as receding waters revealed additional victims.
Nearly 130,000 people have been relocated to safer ground in Gujarat state after hundreds of cities and villages were devastated by weeks of torrential rain.
Helicopters and boats are combing areas including the deluged Banaskantha district where 25 bodies, including 17 members of one family, were discovered in two submerged villages last week.
On Sunday, surviving members of the family met the Gujarat chief minister, Vijay Rupani, who said the rainfall had triggered “the worst flood of the century” in parts of the state.
Nearly 700 people have died across India in recent weeks as monsoon rain has submerged roads, damaged electricity networks and triggered lethal lightning storms.
Overwhelmed authorities in Gujarat said the state’s death toll, which jumped by 90 in the past day, was likely to increase as new victims were discovered. “Only after a postmortem is conducted we can officially confirm death of a person,” an official at the Gujarat emergency control room told Agence France-Presse. “Since many bodies were found, postmortems took time, hence the sudden jump in numbers.”
The flooding has paralysed Gujarat, with flights diverted from the airport in its largest city, Ahmedabad, more than 150 factories shut down, and an estimated 50,000 cotton farms waterlogged.
More than 4,000 animals were thought to have been killed so far, local reports said.
The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who surveyed the devastation from an aircraft last week, has already pledged at least £60m in funding for interim relief efforts. In his monthly radio address on Sunday he said “maximum possible efforts” were being made to assist residents of the state he led as chief minister for 12 years and several others affected by heavy rain in the past week.
Modi said the floods had wreaked havoc on a massive scale, adding that altered weather cycles linked to climate change were having a big negative impact. He announced 200,000 rupees’ compensation (£2,374) to the families of those killed in the deluge and 50,000 rupees to those seriously injured.
As well as Gujarat, the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have been hit by monsoon flooding, as have pockets of Odisha and Bihar in the country’s east. Lightning storms in Odisha and another state, Jharkhand, killed 21 people on Monday with more inclement weather expected throughout this week.
Most of the victims were working in fields when lightning struck them, disaster management authority officials said. Thousands of Indians are killed by lightning each year, most of them working in fields during the June to October monsoon season.
Bihar has reported nearly 140 lightning deaths since May.
Suresh Kumar, West Bengal’s top disaster management official, said 31 deaths had also been reported in a week of flooding in the state. “Heavy rains have caused massive damage in several districts,” Kumar told AFP.
In Assam at least 77 people have been killed and a state-wide emergency relief operation has been under way since April. Tens of thousands of hectares of crops have been destroyed and at least 91 animals, including seven rhinoceros, were killed in flooding at the state’s Kaziranaga national park.
The national park, which rangers said was about 90% underwater, is one of the few remaining habitats of the rare one-horned rhino. The species’ numbers – about 3,300, according to the last count four years ago – have been dented in past years by poachers and flooding in 2016 that killed more than 20, nearly half of them calves.
Meteorologists said the rainfall in Gujarat, close to the heaviest in 112 years, was the result of low-pressure systems developing simultaneously over the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea.
Flooding kills thousands of people each year in India, the damage exacerbated by weak enforcement of building standards, high rates of poverty and unplanned communities springing up in high-risk areas. Research in 2016 found that flooding was the most significant risk to communities and businesses in south Asia and that about 113 million people in India – nearly 10% of the population – were acutely exposed to flood hazard.