Heavy early monsoon rains have killed at least 81 people in India’s western Gujarat state, bringing misery to thousands uprooted from their flooded homes, an official said yesterday.
Nearly 9,000 people have been evacuated to higher ground in the worst-hit rural areas of Amreli, Rajkot and Bhavnagar districts of Gujarat, which had been suffering from a drought before the rains hit, said a National Disaster Response Force official.
He added that most of the deaths occurred when people were swept away by flood waters and mudslides, or buried in collapsed houses.
More than 1,000 Hindu pilgrims have been stranded on the mountain paths leading to the shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath in northern Uttrakhand state because of the rains.
The state disaster response force and police were clearing the roads to restore the pilgrimage, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
India’s financial capital of Mumbai was badly hit last week when torrential showers put a stop to train services and led to a breakdown in public services.
The monsoon rains arrived days ahead of schedule in the western and northern parts of India, raising hopes the annual rains may not be as sparse as predicted by the India Meteorological Department.
The monsoon has covered nearly the entire country, flooding parts of Gujarat in western India and Assam state in the north-east, while a swollen river breached its banks in northern Jammu-Kashmir state.
Heavy rains have triggered house collapses in the worst-affected Saurashtra region with some reports saying these were the worst floods in 90 years.
The coastal district of Amreli is the worst affected, where more than 600 villages have been affected.
Farmers are among those to suffer most with crops over a large area damaged, Gujarat health minister Nitin Patel said.
Rescue and relief work is ongoing, he added.
There have been reports of lions coming out of their habitat in the Gir forest in Junagadh – the only home to Asiatic lions – which has also been hit by rains.
Flood warnings have been issued in Indian-administered Kashmir state where floods killed about 300 people last year.
India receives 80 per cent of its annual rainfall during the monsoon season, which runs between June and September.
The rains come after India suffered the second deadliest heatwave on record which killed 2,500 people. A further 1,000 people have been killed by the heat in neighbouring Pakistan.
Earlier this month, India’s earth sciences minister Harsh Vardhan blamed climate change for the extreme weather as a United Nations panel on the issue of global warming warned that the country looks set to experience more freak weather patterns if world temperatures continued to rise. Two-thirds of its 1.2 billion population live in rural areas.
Last year, monsoon rains covered the country two days behind the schedule, hitting crop output.
However, the Indian weather department said it expected a drier July.