Rescuers Save 354 Train Passengers Neck-Deep in Water as Indian Floods Displace 500,000
NEW DELHI Rescuers saved all 354 passengers who were trapped for days in a train that had slowly filled with flood water to neck height, officials said Saturday as raging monsoons continued to submerge vast swaths of Indian countryside and forced the evacuation of half a million people.
"The situation is serious. There is water everywhere. Villages, roads and railway lines are all submerged," federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters after an aerial tour of flooded areas in western Gujarat state.
At least 500,000 people, mostly poor villagers who lost their homes and belongings, have been evacuated to safer ground and at least 100 people have died this week, news reports said.
The Indore-Gandhinagar Shanti Express and its passengers had been trapped in the flooded railroad cars since Thursday morning. Passengers were communicating with officials through a single cell phone that still had its batteries charged, The Times of India reported.
"All the passengers have been saved by army soldiers and local police," said A.K. Bhargava, Gujarat police chief. "All of them have been moved to safer places." The rescue was carried out late Friday and there were no casualties, he said.
In the town of Nadiad, authorities were trying to shift more than 300 prisoners out of the local prison because the premises were flooded, Press Trust of India reported. But roads in the areas have been washed out and vehicles carrying the prisoners could not leave the prison, it said.
Soldiers were assisting police and civilian rescue workers in the area, while air force helicopters took part in rescue missions and food drops.
Experts from the Water Resources Ministry rushed to Vadodara on Saturday to examine and plug a 30-feet (nine-meter) breach in the Pratap Pura dam.
India's monsoon season begins in June and continues until the end of September. Downpours have lashed the state since last weekend, submerging vast areas.
A heat wave that preceded the monsoon season claimed nearly 400 lives in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan with temperatures soaring to 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
"Once the rain fury subsides, we have to help the kin of the dead and carry on the relief work for the affected," Patil said.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the top Gujarat official who accompanied Patil on the survey, said the rains are so heavy that even the state's drought-prone Ranapur village had received eight inches (20 centimeters) of rainfall in four hours, inundating 30 villages, PTI reported.
Patil could not go to the worst-affected Vadodara district because of bad weather. The airport in the district's main town of the same name is swamped and no flights are operating, Press Trust of India reported.
Source: Associated Press