Monsoon flooding kills at least 160 across South Asia

Landslides and floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have killed at least 160 people in recent days and displaced millions more across northern India, southern Nepal and Bangladesh.

Elephants help rescue victims in Nepal, Bangladesh braces for more rain

Nepali residents swim with a rubber ring in a flooded area in the Birgunj Parsa district, some 200 kilometres south of Kathmandu, on Sunday. (Manish Paudel/AFP/Getty Images)

Landslides and floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains have killed at least 160 people in recent days and displaced millions more across northern India, southern Nepal and Bangladesh.

Officials said Monday they were still trying to determine the scale of the disaster, as weather forecasters predicted more rain and casualties were reported in multiple locations across the Himalayan foothills of South Asia.

Many of those killed had drowned or been caught in collapsed houses or under toppled trees.

Nepalese police were searching for 85 people reported missing after rivers burst their banks and killed at least 75, according to police spokesperson Pushkar Karki.

"The death toll may go up further as reports come in from remote areas," Karki said.

On Sunday, there wasn't even enough dry land to bury one of the victims in the southern district of Saptari, where resident Dev Kumar Sada instead set the body of his eight-year-old nephew Kamal adrift on the swollen Koshi River. 

The family went against tradition — which in that part of the country calls for a burial — because all the land in their village was flooded or waterlogged, according to media reports. 

Dev Kumar Sada, uncle of eight-year-old flood victim Kamal Sada, carries the boy's dead body into the Koshi River on Sunday. (Narendra Shrestha/EPA)

The floods also destroyed key rice crops in Nepal, and drove thousands of farmers and their families to take shelter in schools or tents on higher ground, as water submerged roads and cut transport to affected areas. Aid workers said many did not have enough food or water.

"The heavy rains hit at one of the worst times, shortly after farmers planted their rice crop," Sumnima Shrestha, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-based anti-poverty charity Heifer International, said in a statement.

"Making matters worse, large numbers of livestock have been swept away in the flash flooding."

Saved by elephants

Elephants helped rescue hundreds of tourists from a flooded jungle safari park in Sauraha, on the fringe of Nepal's Chitwan National Park, after the Rapti River overflowed its banks, inundating hotels and restaurants and leaving some 600 tourists stranded. 

​Sauraha, 80 kilometres south of the capital, Kathmandu, is home to 605 rhinoceroses and is popular with foreign tourists, including Indian and Chinese visitors, mainly for rhino watching and elephant rides.

Rescuers used elephants to get tourists out of Chitwan National Park after floods brought on by heavy monsoon rains forced tourists to flee. Flooding has displaced millions of people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh 1:11

"Some 300 guests were rescued on elephant backs and tractor-trailers to [nearby] Bharatpur yesterday [Sunday] and the rest will be taken to safer places today," Suman Ghimire, head of a group of Sauraha hotel owners, said by telephone on Monday.

Landslides and flooding are common across South Asia during the summer monsoon season, and have become more dangerous thanks to widespread deforestation and poor urban planning that makes it harder for the land to absorb rainfall.

Bangladesh was bracing for worse flooding Monday, as weather forecasters predicted more rain. At least 18 major rivers were flowing at dangerously high levels, according to the state-run Flood Forecasting and Warning Center.

Twenty people have been killed over the last few days in the low-lying delta nation, while another 600,000 are marooned, the country's disaster management minister said Monday.

Bangladeshi soldiers were working to evacuate those who were stranded on rooftops or in trees, after floodwaters inundated hundreds of northern villages. Around 368,000 people have taken refuge in more than 970 makeshift government shelters, said Bangladesh's disaster management minister, Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury.

Nepali residents make their way despite of the water in a flooded area in the Birgunj Parsa district. Large swaths of farmland in Nepal's southern plains, the country's breadbasket, are under water. (Manish Paudel/AFP/Getty Images)

Railways washed out

In the northeastern Indian state of Assam, the floodwaters have damaged bridges, downed power lines and washed away thousands of homes. Officials said at least 2.5 million people had been affected, including some 200,000 now staying in 440 relief camps.

With railway lines inundated, the remote region was largely cut off from the rest of the country. Indian air force helicopters were dropping food and drinking water packets in the worst-hit districts, said Assam's chief secretary, V. K. Pipersenia.

Large areas of Assam's Kaziranga National Park were also under water, forcing many of the wildlife reserve's endangered rhinos and deer to move to higher ground. Dozens of deer were killed by cars after they leapt onto a nearby highway to escape the floods.

Farther to the west, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, soldiers recovered the bodies of 46 people who had been travelling in two buses that were buried in a massive landslide of rocks and mud on Sunday.

People load their harvested crop onto a buffalo cart in a flooded paddy field at Mayong village in Morigaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, on June 6. (Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters)

With files from Reuters and CBC News