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India steps up relief efforts as floods hit hundreds of thousands

INDIA: Fifty-five people were reported killed by flooding in India as relief workers moved thousands marooned by heavy monsoon rains to higher ground.

Authorities raced to shift some 30,000 people when the city of Surat in the western coastal state of Gujarat was flooded after the Tapti river burst its banks, local officials said.

Schools in the Gujarati city of Vadodara were closed after a high alert was sounded when the water level of the nearby Ajwa lake rose to danger point, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

The situation in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which was thrown into chaos at the weekend by lashing monsoon showers, eased Monday when the rains stopped, officials said.

However, the state's main Godavari river and its tributaries were flowing over the danger mark due to rain in neighbouring states, Andhra Pradesh's additional commissioner for relief, Priyadarshini, told AFP.

More than 100,000 people had been evacuated to relief camps, she said.

In western Maharashtra state, heavy downpours continued to cripple normal life, officials said, with at least 50,000 people marooned.

Helicopters were dropping food supplies to those stranded while soldiers and local emergency workers using boats mounted rescue operations.

Relief work was under way in 15 of Maharashtra's 35 districts, said state relief and rehabilitation secretary Bhupati Pandey.

"The biggest concern is taking people out of these areas during these torrential rains... but the situation is under control at the moment," Pandey said.

Twenty people had died in rain-related incidents overnight, he said.

In the Himalayan region of Kashmir, incessant rains caused landslides and house collapses, killing two people, officials said.

In Kashmir's Buddhist-dominated Leh region, at least 15 people were killed in flash floods and 25 villages were cut off by floodwaters with the Indian army called in to help, reports said.

The frontier region was cut off for a fifth day as roads leading out of the area were closed, PTI said. With water levels in the region's main river Jhelum rising, Altaf Baba, an engineer in the state's flood department, said officials had been put on a state of alert.

In the central state of Chattisgarh, eight people were killed and 100 people were missing due to floods, the NDTV news channel reported.

Andhra pradesh hit by heavy monsoon rains reported 30 more deaths over the past five days, as soldiers and helicopters helped to rescue stranded villagers.

Said he spoke with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who agreed to his request to send soldiers as hundreds of villages were submerged in several districts.

In the neighboring state of Orissa, two people were washed away in floods and two people were killed by collapsing walls, PTI said.

The latest deaths took a nationwide death toll linked to the annual monsoon rains since mid-May to 497, 117 of them in the past week alone, according to an AFP tally.

Meanwhile Flash floods caused by torrential monsoon rain in northwest Pakistan have claimed 144 lives, including dozens killed when a bridge collapsed into a river, a government official said Monday.

The first death was on July 26 when rain started lashing North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, provincial relief commissioner Fazle Rabbi said.

Another 93 people were injured in rain-related incidents, the official said in a statement.

Some 16,000 mud-brick houses were destroyed or damaged by flooding in several districts, including 12,000 in the badly hit district of Mardan northeast of the provincial capital Peshawar.

A bridge collapsed in Mardan on Saturday and the swollen river below swept 41 people to their deaths.

Another 40 people were killed mostly by roof collapses, electrocutions or drowning in central Punjab province last week.

Mumbai, Peshawar, Tuesday, AFP, AP

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