Source AP ©

North India floods expected to ease; death toll climbs to 297

Water levels in several north Indian rivers fell Monday as heavy monsoon rains eased, but the death toll across South Asia from recent floods climbed to at least 297, officials said.

"Water levels in three rivers, Ghagra, Rapti and Gandak, have started receding. Water levels in other rivers have also either started receding or are constant," said Mahindra Awasthi, a spokesman for the Central Water Commission in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.

"If this trend continues it will give a big respite to the millions of marooned people," he said.

The meteorological office forecast minimal rains in north and northeastern India over the next 24 hours.

Weeks of torrential rains have marooned 2 million Indian villagers and killed at least 297 people across South Asia in the past week.

Helicopters dropped food and the army helped civil authorities carry out rescue operations. They also brought aid to hundreds of thousands of people who had escaped to high ground near national highways and railway tracks in India's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states last week. Most villagers took their cows, buffaloes and goats to makeshift shelters.

At least 39 deaths were reported in Bangladesh and 29 in India over the weekend, raising Bangladesh's overall death toll to 120 and India's to 177 in the past week, according to government figures.

Since the start of the monsoon in June, the government says more than 1,200 people have died in India alone, with scores of others killed in Bangladesh and neighboring Nepal, where floods have hit low-lying southern parts of the country.

Some 19 million people have been driven from their homes in the two countries in recent days. The South Asian monsoon season runs from June to September as the rains work their way across the subcontinent, a deluge that spreads floods and landslides across the region and kills many people every year.

As rains eased doctors and paramedics started supplying medicine to people to prevent diarrhea, skin allergies and other waterborne diseases, said S.K. Gupta, an Indian army officer.

Army doctors treated 235 people suffering from waterborne diseases in makeshift camps near Gorakhpur, a town 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Uttar Pradesh's state capital, Lucknow, said Gupta, who is commanding a unit involved in relief operations.

"Our effort is to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic," he told The Associated Press.

Major rivers have also started receding in worst-hit eastern and central Bangladesh with monsoon rains weakening, the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said Sunday in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Floodwaters have battered 38 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh, a delta nation of more than 150 million people.

So far this year, some 14 million people in India and 5 million in Bangladesh have been displaced by flooding, according to government figures.