More bodies were pulled from the mud and debris Tuesday after flash flood water receded in northeast India’s Assam state, where flooding killed 171 people in six days. Annual monsoon storms and floods killed 2,208 from June through September throughout the region.
“The devastation has been terrible,” said an army officer engaged in the rescue and relief operations in Assam. “Our soldiers are still pulling out bodies from rivers and marshes.”
According to the Associated Press, waters rushing down from the hills adjoining Meghalaya state caught sleeping villagers by surprise, sweeping away people, huts, cattle and poultry. A large number of houses in the Goalpara district were washed away by a wall of water that raged through villages at roof-height after 10 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 7.
According to Action by Churches Together, more than 30,000 homes were damaged or destroyed over the past six days. The massive losses suffered in livestock and cultivated land have dealt a blow to the region, the agency reported, and large numbers of families, many with up to eight children, have been forced to seek shelter on the verge of National Highway 37. Ninety-five relief camps have been opened in school buildings and other public places.
The situation in West Bengal is equally serious, ACT reported, with more than one and a half million people affected. Although the death toll was not as heavy in this region, loss of land and more than 40,000 animals and about 80,000 poultry birds killed or lost will have a serious impact on people's livelihoods. Now, hundreds of people are living under makeshift plastic-covered huts on the national highway, keeping with them any cattle and poultry they could rescue.
K.G. Mathaikutty, the head of the disaster unit for the Lutheran World Federation’s World Service in India (LWFSI), said that while visiting two blocks of Goalpara on Oct. 12, the army was still recovering bodies from the Krishnai River.
"We could see thousands of cattle carcasses floating in the waterlogged villages of Folonga Gram Panchayat,” Mathaikutty said.
Nirmal J. Singh, Admistrative Officer for Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), reported that the floods, the third this season in Assam, have forced tens of thousands of people to take shelter in relief camps. As the floodwaters start receding, authorities and agencies assisting those affected (believed to be more than 800,000) are starting to tally the damage.
As of Tuesday, the number of districts in Assam affected by the flood stood at 14, with more than a thousand villages devastated.
With the level of the water receding as rapidly as it had risen, assessments of people's needs continue as many villages were completely cut off.
According to ACT, the immediate needs of people affected in both Assam and West Bengal by the floods are shelter, livestock, food and some re-establishment of community infrastructure. Rehabilitation activities will be taken up as soon as the floodwater recedes completely.
Both LWSI and CASA, members of ACT, have been implementing relief programs in the region.
LWSI has been supplementing government efforts to provide food items to people in six of the relief camps in Assam for the last six days, while also distributing essential clothing items - funded through an open ACT appeal. Starting their relief on Oct. 9, LWSI has so far distributed rice, dal and salt to people in four shelter camps in the Goalpara district. The number of households to have benefited from this relief totals 170 (1,102 adults and children). Also distributed were blankets and bed sheets to those who had lost all their belongings to the floods. The government has requested that LWSI rehabilitate two villages, a project that would support some 250 families.
CASA has also submitted to the ACT Coordinating Office in Geneva their proposed response to the disaster, which aims at bringing relief to 2,000 families in two districts of Assam and 6,000 families in 3 districts of West Bengal. This will include distributing relief items such as rice, woolen blankets, clothing (saris and dhotis), cloth, kitchen utensils and temporary shelter.
LWSI and CASA will implement their relief efforts though an ACT appeal.