Office-goers use boats in Kolkata
By Bappa Majumdar, KOLKATA, India, Reuters
July 4, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
Office workers used life boats to cross flooded streets on Tuesday in India’s eastern city of Kolkata as monsoon floods and storms ravaged parts of South Asia.
The death toll from more than a week of bad weather across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan approached 700.
Torrential rains accompanied by strong storms over large parts of the subcontinent have brought down houses, uprooted trees and disrupted power to hundreds of villages. Floods have swamped cities and huge swathes of agricultural land.
In eastern India’s biggest city, Kolkata, at least seven people died in roof collapses while train and flight services were disrupted because of flooding of rail tracks and poor visibility.
Thousands of people had to wade through filthy brown water to get to work, with buses and cars staying off flooded roads.
A meteorological official warned of more heavy rains and advised fishermen not to venture out to the high seas.
“There will be no respite as we expect heavy rainfall under the influence of a low pressure in the Bay of Bengal,” said G.C. Debnath, a senior weather official.
There were widespread blackouts due to downed powerlines.
“I saw a few people, mostly executives, huddled in a small boat making its way through flooded streets,” Amal Mukherjee, a city resident, said.
Many schools and colleges declared a holiday because of the heavy rains and flooding in the city of 8 million people.
In western India, 10 people died from roof collapses, lightning and drowning in the coastal state of Gujarat.
More than 35,000 people in low-lying areas of the industrial state were moved to higher grounds, officials said.
About 35 villages were cut off, and power in Jamnagar, a coastal town with oil refineries, was disrupted.
Many people were forced to take shelter in trees and on roofs.
“We have no place to go, our house has been swept away,” said Rekhilal Wankar, a villager.
In neighboring Pakistan, thousands of people in three districts of the usually desert-like Baluchistan province remained cut off, a week after a cyclone brought rains and severe flooding to the region.
The cyclone and floods, the worst in Baluchistan since records began nearly a century ago, have affected up to 2 million people and killed nearly 120.
“They’re really in a vulnerable situation,” Baluchistan’s deputy relief commissioner, Ali Gul Kurd, said, referring to the marooned districts.
“We can’t reach there. They’re living without any shelter. We may see more deaths there ... There’s a desperate need for tents because people are lying in the open air.”
In Afghanistan, NATO peacekeepers were helping rescue efforts after floods last week killed more than 40 people.