Disease, floods kill 70, sicken hundreds in India

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2000

GAUHATI, India - Waterborne diseases and flooding rivers caused by seasonal monsoon rains have killed at least 70 people and sickened hundreds in India over the past week, authorities and news reports said Friday.

A bus with more than 60 passengers was swept away by a swollen Banas River Friday night in central Madhya Pradesh state. Only seven people managed to swim to safety, the news agency Press Trust of India quoted police as saying. Rescue operations were hampered by continuous rains.

In the past week, 20 people have also been killed and hundreds made ill by waterborne diseases in India's flood-ravaged northeast state of Assam, and authorities warn they don't have enough doctors to cope with the problem.

Gastroenteritis is spreading quickly in western Assam districts of Kokrajhar and Nalbari since tens of thousands of people have started going back to their villages after the flooding, local officials said.

The swollen rivers have become polluted and wells filled with sewage.

"At least 15 deaths were reported and more than 50 are sickened with gastroenteritis during the past week after villagers ate fish from the swollen Nijla River," J.I. Kathar, the district magistrate of Kokrajhar, said over the telephone. "We are finding it hard to cope with no doctors available to treat the villagers."

In Nalbari district, 95 miles west of Gauhati, at least five villagers have died of dysentery, while hundreds of others were reported sick.

A seven-member International Federation of the Red Cross team is touring parts of Assam to assess the flood damage.

The head of the delegation, Geoffrey Dennis, said tens of thousands of stranded villagers had been without food or medical care for more than a week.

"If aid doesn't reach them soon, we may begin to see serious malnutrition and outbreaks of waterborne diseases," Dennis said.

This year's monsoon season in India has seen about 300 people killed and millions of homes destroyed, according to Indian authorities.

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