WORLD> Asia-Pacific
Indian flood refugees to spend 6 months in camps
Updated: 2008-09-08 15:34

PATNA, India -- Hundreds of thousands of Indian flood refugees are likely to spend six months in state-run relief camps while authorities rebuild homes, roads and river embankments in the flood-ravaged north, officials said Monday.

Flood-affected children crowd around a relief worker distributing free milk at a flood relief camp in Purniya district town of the eastern Indian state of Bihar September 8, 2008. Authorities battling a massive deluge in Bihar issued public warnings of more floods to come and asked villagers not to return home from temporary shelters yet. The floods have forced more than three million people from their homes, destroyed 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of farmland and killed at least 90 people. [Agencies]

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More than 257,000 people have taken shelter in 313 state-run camps in Bihar state, where the Kosi River burst its banks last month and turned hundreds of square miles (kilometers) of land into a giant lake, said Prataya Amrit, a state disaster management official.

The state's top elected official, Nitish Kumar, said the relief camps would run for another six months as most areas will likely remain flooded for at least that long.

Authorities have confirmed 42 deaths, but it is widely believed the final toll will be much higher.

Rescue workers have evacuated 914,000 people from nearly 1,000 flooded villages. But with river levels falling by more than two feet (0.6 meter) over the last few days, more than 30,000 have returned to their homes, ignoring official warning that their homes were still not safe, Amrit said.

Another 50,000 people have refused to abandon their homes in flood-hit areas despite pleas by authorities to evacuate, he said.

On Sunday, newspaper advertisements urged thousands of flood survivors to go to state-run camps where clean drinking water, food and medical care were available.

Government engineers were digging a new channel to correct the course of the Kosi River, which flows from neighboring Nepal, and plug the mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) breach in the embankment. They also have taken up the task of repairing roads to allow faster movement of relief supplies in the region, said K. R. Sinha, a state government engineer, on Monday.

The damage to nearly 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) of highways and 250 road bridges was estimated around 22 billion rupees (US$523 million).

With relief camps teeming with the flood victims, the government has rushed about 900 doctors and medical supplies to the inundated region.

Already, hundreds of cases of pneumonia, diarrhea and high fevers have been reported. Doctors started immunization drives over the weekend to counter fears that waterborne diseases will spread as the number of camp residents grow.

In neighboring Bangladesh, the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said in a bulletin on Sunday that most major rivers were flowing above the danger mark and floodwaters were only likely to start receding by the end of next week.

The government gave no details about the number of people killed in Bangladesh, but news reports have said at least 19 people have died over the last two weeks.

The monsoon season, which runs from June to September every year, brings rain vital for the farmers of South Asia but also can cause massive destruction.