NEW DELHI • Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday expressed deep concern over flooding that has claimed at least 300 lives and affected more than six million people in eastern and central India.
Heavy monsoon rains have caused rivers, including the mighty Ganges and its tributaries, to burst their banks, forcing people into relief camps in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
Government officials in Bihar, which has seen some of the worst flooding this year with almost 120 dead and more than five million affected, said the situation was serious.
"The flood waters have engulfed low-lying areas, homes and fields of crops," said Mr Zafar Rakib, a district magistrate of Katihar, one of 24 districts out of Bihar's 38 districts which have been hit by the deluge.
In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where 43 people have died and over one million are affected, schools were closed in the cities of Varanasi and Allahabad as both the Ganges and Yamuna rivers crossed danger levels and flood waters continued to rise.
"Deeply concerned by the flood situation in Varanasi," Mr Modi posted on his Twitter account yesterday, adding that his office "is closely monitoring the situation and is in touch with local authorities".
I pray for the safety and well-being of those in areas affected by floods. The Centre assures total support in the rescue and relief operations.
PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI, responding to the crisis in five states.
He also promised in another tweet to "provide all assistance" to his constituency, Varanasi.
His tweets came after his pledge on Monday to offer additional support from the federal government. "I pray for the safety and well-being of those in areas affected by floods," said Mr Modi in a statement. "The Centre assures total support in the rescue and relief operations."
The federal government in India is also referred to as the Central government or the Centre.
The holy city of Varanasi, where thousands of Hindus flock to daily, was forced to halt cremations along the banks of the sacred Ganges river, forcing families to cremate their relatives on the terraced roofs of nearby houses, officials said.
Television pictures showed villagers wading waist-deep in flood waters with their livestock, mud-and-brick homes collapsing and people climbing into wooden boats to get to relief camps.
"We are all worried about what we should do. For the last four days we have been living like this. We don't even have any food to eat," 42-year-old villager Doda Yadav from Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh told the NDTV news station .
In the central state of Madhya Pradesh, where at least 70 have died since the onset of the monsoons in June and more than 40,000 homes are partially or fully destroyed, almost 20,000 people have been evacuated to relief camps. Officials said villagers would return home when water levels recede, although the Indian Meteorological Department has forecast more rains for central India over the next two days.
India usually experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture. But in many states across the country, the rains frequently cause landslides and flooding.
India's National Disaster Response Force has been deployed in the five states, rescuing more than 33,000 people stranded in remote villages. It has also distributed relief and provided medical assistance to more than 9,000 survivors.