GAUHATI, India: Massive flooding and mudslides in northeastern India's Assam state have claimed eight more lives, officials said on Sunday (Jun 19), taking the death toll to 62 from weeks of heavy rains that caused one of Asia’s largest rivers to overflow.
Assam's disaster management agency said 32 of the state's 35 districts were underwater as the swollen Brahmaputra River broke its banks, displacing more than 3 million people. The Indian army was called in for rescue efforts and the air force remained on standby.
The Brahmaputra flows from China's Tibet through India and into Bangladesh on a nearly 800km journey through Assam.
On Sunday, four people went missing when a boat carrying nine capsized in eastern Assam’s Dibrugarh district, 500km east of Gauhati, the state capital. Police said that search operations were ongoing but they were hampered by strong currents.
Forecasters are expecting a respite from rains after incessant downpours.
On Saturday, Assam's Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma toured flood-hit areas and described the situation as grim.
“We are now focusing on relief and rescue operations,” Sarma said, adding that more than 20,000 people have been evacuated by the army and other rescue agencies.
Annual monsoon rains hit the region in June-September. The rains are crucial for crops planted during the season but often cause extensive damage.
Flooding from swollen rivers has also spilled over to neighbouring Bangladesh, where the government said the situation was likely to deteriorate in the worst-hit Sunamganj and Sylhet districts in the northeast as well as in the north.
Many of Bangladesh's rivers have risen to dangerous levels and the runoff from heavy rain from across Indian mountains exacerbated the situation, said Arifuzzaman Bhuiyan, the head of the state-run Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre.
At least 25 people were killed by lightning or landslides over the weekend in Bangladesh.
Thousands of policemen, army personnel have been deployed to parts of the country to help search and rescue efforts.
About 105,000 people have been evacuated so far but police officials estimated that over four million were still stranded.
Syed Rafiqul Haque, a former lawmaker and ruling party politician in Sunamganj district, said the country was facing a humanitarian crisis if proper rescue operations were not conducted.
"Almost the entire Sylhet-Sunamganj belt is under water and millions of people are stranded," he said, adding victims have no food, drinking water and communication networks were down.
Regional officials said about 3.1 million people were displaced, 200,000 of whom are staying in government-run makeshift shelters on raised embankments or on other highlands.
Environmentalists warn climate change could lead to more disasters, especially in low-lying and densely populated Bangladesh.