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Assam disaster managers in US for lessons, state reels in spate

Nothing could perhaps be more ironical than Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and the state's Disaster Management Minister Prithvi Majhi being away in the US with a big contingent of bureaucrats and officials to learn about disaster management at a time when the state is facing the most severe flood situation in years.

Even as the chief minister issued orders from abroad for proper measures to tackle the flood situation, there are allegations of irregularities and slackness in different districts as no one is available at the state capital complex in Dispur to oversee the relief and rescue missions. The contingent is likely return to the state on 30 June.

Although authorities are claiming to be distributing rice, wheat, mustard oil and dal to the flood-hit people as per a government report, complains of inadequate and late supplies are coming from across the state. The department is already under fire for providing mere statistics rather than helping people on the ground.

Raging Brahmaputra at Mohanaghat in Dibrugarh on Tuesday. Image courtesy Alok Kar Dowerah

Incessant rain in the last few days and resultant floods continue to ravage 11 Assam districts affecting 383,792 people including 2,970 families particularly in the upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur. The affected people have been shifted to 48 relief camps in the flood-hit districts. The Brahmaputra and many of its tributaries are flowing above danger level in different places.

The Central Water Commission said that the Brahmaputra water level in Dibrugarh reached 106.27 metres, i.e., 57 centimetres from the danger mark of 105.7 metres. This trend is very close to the highest flood level of 106.48 metres on 3 September 1998.

A portion of the Rs 60 crore worth geo bag at Rohmaria under Lahowal constituency in Dibrugarh and porcupine structures along the main embankment have been swept away by the river creating panic among the residents of the oil and tea-rich district.

At Nematighat in the upper Assam district of Jorhat, the Brahmaputra water level was recorded at 87.21 metres, which is 2.17 metres above the danger level of 84.04 metres. Over 10 people have already lost their lives in the floods with the latest incident occuring in Dibrugarh this morning when a person was swept away by the swirling waters of the Brahmaputra.

So far, as per the reports of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, 21374.15 hectares of agricultural land are under water in the state.

The Majuli island, which is the world's largest riverine island and the seat of Assam's Vaishnavite culture, is completely marooned from the rest of the country as the daily ferry services between Nematighat in Jorhat and Majuli have been stopped due to the dangerous currents of the Brahmaputra. Fifty villages of the island are reeling under flood waters.

Embankments, dykes, bridges, culverts and roads were breached in many places affecting over 1,000 villages in the state. The flood has badly affected Dhemaji district in particular with the Jiadhal and Brahmaputra rivers in full spate. According to reports available, the Brahmaputra breached 100 metres of Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke forcing people to take shelter in relief camps. Vast stretches of agricultural land are under water while many domestic animals have been swept away.

The story is no different in Dikhoumukh area of Sivasagar district as a dyke on the Brahmaputra was breached at five places on Monday midnight. Hundreds of people are yet to be rescued and as many villages were inundated within minutes.

In Tinsukia district, the areas of Sadiya, Doomdooma and the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park are under water for days. The civil administration has sought military help while the animals at the national park are seeking higher grounds. Soldiers of the Bihar regiment are helping the civil administration. Around 120 workers associated with the construction of the bridge over the Brahmaputra in Sadiya are marooned and air force choppers are dropping food packets for them.

The floods have also hit the Kaziranga National Park as well with many animals going to the hills in Karbi Anglong district to escape the flood fury. However, in the process they cross the busy national highway 37 often falling victims to speeding vehicles.

Floods in Assam have become an annual affair and will remain so unless the Rs 100 crore flood protection multi-purpose project announced by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi last year finds place in reality.