NEW DELHI (Reuters AlertNet) - Tens of thousands of people in Orissa are stranded - living on roof tops or sleeping in the open with little food and water - in the worst floods to hit the area in 30 years, aid workers and officials said on Wednesday.
The flooding, sparked by two spells of heavy monsoon rains, has disrupted the lives of more than two million people after submerging over 3,000 villages in the impoverished coastal state. At least 38 people have died.
"This really is the worst flooding in Orissa for at least three decades," John Roche, country head for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told AlertNet.
"In a second round of flooding, in just a matter of weeks, the numbers of affected have almost doubled, leaving tens of thousands marooned, and homes across hundreds of villages submerged."
Orissa, one of India's poorest regions located on the Bay of Bengal coast, is prone to natural disasters - often staggering from heatwaves and droughts to cyclones and floods.
A super cyclone in 1999 hit 12 districts, while major floods in 1980 left 13 districts inundated. Government officials say the current floods have hit a much larger area.
"This is the worst since 1980," said Suresh Chandra Suara, Orissa's joint relief commissioner, adding that the disaster has affected 21 of the state's 30 districts.
India usually experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture. But the rains frequently cause landslides and flooding - displacing hundreds of thousands, devastating homes, destroying crops and triggering illnesses such as diarrhoea.
This year's heavy rains have also taken their toll in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. An estimated five million people have either been displaced or had their homes, crops or possessions destroyed or damaged.
But aid workers say the situation is most urgent in Orissa's worst-hit districts of Jajpur, Balasore, Bhadrak and Kendrapara where many poor farming communities are marooned with little aid, prompting authorities to air-drop food packets.
In some areas, water levels are 5-6 feet deep and people have made platforms on their roofs for fear of drowning, while others are sleeping out in the open on higher ground.
Cassie Dummett, head of programming for Catholic Relief Services, an international aid agency working in the area, said the emergency response is not yet meeting needs.
"Access to clean water is a serious problem and many people have been forced to drink the contaminated flood waters," she said. "Shelter is also inadequate as people have had their homes destroyed."
(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in New Delhi, Alka Pande in Lucknow and an AlertNet correspondent in Patna)
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