Chandpur Bhangaha, Bihar: Efforts to rescue tens of thousands of villagers still cut off by a monsoon-swollen river in Bihar have entered a critical stage, aid workers and evacuees say.
Those who have managed to escape the worst-hit areas of the state say food is running out and people are having to drink the muddy flood water, while aid workers speak of “grim” conditions.
“We haven’t had anything to eat for five days,” said Murti Shah, who finally got out of her village in the worst-hit Madhepura district after spending two weeks on a school’s rooftop eating through the supplies of grain the family had stored. “We drank the flood waters.”
Many villagers in the area, submerged after the Kosi river breached its defences in Nepal and swung east, have lost their lives trying to make it to safety.
“My uncle was on a tree and when he tried to get down he was washed away by the current,” said 30-year-old Anil Kumar Bhaskar, who also made it out on Wednesday on a navy boat. “Later we found his body in the reeds.”
State government warnings to villagers to evacuate when the river first broke through its flood walls have kept the death toll low, with some 100 people drowned so far even though the floods have affected three million.
Over 600,000 people have been evacuated from the flooded areas, but rescuing the estimated 350,000 villagers still stranded within the next several days is vital to prevent more deaths, rescuers say.
“It’s very grim. The people there are in pathetic conditions,” said Rajeev Ahluwalia, an assistant commander with the new National Disaster Response Force set up after the 2004 tsunami.
Several villagers who arrived by boat on Wednesday said these were the first rescue vessels they had seen since their homes were flooded.
Others on an embankment in Chandpur Bhangaha district — one of the worst-hit areas—said they had walked here to plead for rescue teams to be sent to their villages. “No boats have come to my village,” said Jawahar Yadav, a man of around 60 who had come from Pakhilpad village, where he says hundreds are waiting.
“All our drinking water taps have drowned. I walked through the water to ask for help.”