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Church struggles as floods hit Indian state

Floods came as church groups were helping thousands of returning migrant workers in Assam

Church struggles as floods hit Indian state

In this file photo taken on Aug. 4, 2018, Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel evacuate villagers affected by floods in the Numaligarh area of Golaghat district in Assam state. (Photo: AFP)

Incessant rain and floods have forced hundreds of thousands of people to move to safer places in eastern India's Assam state, adding to the misery brought by the Covid-19 pandemic and last week’s devastating cyclone.

Authorities have moved some 1,000 people from flooded areas to 35 relief camps as the state continues to witness heavy rain since Cyclone Amphan made landfall on the eastern coast of India on May 20. 

“We are facing an unprecedented situation after floodwater entered the houses of people living in low-lying areas of seven districts in Assam,” said Allen Brooks, spokesperson for Assam Christian Forum.

Assam State Disaster Management Authority said flooding has affected 194,916 people as rain and strong winds created havoc across the state.

Brooks said the rain has not stopped in the state since the cyclone hit, leaving a trail of destruction in the coastal states of West Bengal and Odisha and killing 86 people. It also struck parts of Bangladesh.

The National Weather Forecasting Centre has predicted more rain in the region.

The states of Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have received "extremely heavy rains in the past five days, which is likely to continue for another three days at least," said K. Sathi Devi, the center's head.

"Southwesterly moisture-laden winds are converging from the Bay of Bengal in the region. The rains aren't likely to recede immediately." 

Bishop Thomas Pullopillil of Bongaigaon said some parish churches and homes of Catholics in his diocese are flooded.

“What we are experiencing now looks like an extension of the impact of Cyclone Amphan. Many people lost their houses in heavy rain and powerful winds. The unseasonal rain and floods have caught people off guard and made their lives miserable, especially as they were all working hard to contain the spread of Covid-19,” the bishop said.

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Photo gallery: Cyclone Amphan ravages eastern India

Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati, based in Assam’s commercial capital, said the flooding has created a difficult situation.

“We have been working hard to settle migrant workers who have returned from other states” after they lost jobs because of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, he said.

He said the floods came when church people were arranging quarantine facilities and other basic requirements for returning migrant workers.

Archbishop Moolachira said the state government is arranging relief camps and food for people displaced by the floods, maintaining the safety protocols of Covid-19.

“We are totally into helping repatriate migrants and keeping a watch on the surging flood as well,” he added.

However, flooding has severely affected Goalpara district under Guwahati Archdiocese. The area has a sizable Catholic population.

“Our people have informed us of moving to safer places after their houses are flooded,” said Father Maya Martin Muchahary, the archdiocesan social work director. There are no reports of casualties, he added.

“The diocese is finding it hard to arrange funds to support the flood victims. It had diverted a major portion of the funds to fight Covid-19,” the priest said.

As rain continues with rivers flowing above the danger mark and roads disconnected, it is difficult to assess losses and damage. "We can do a survey only after the rain stops,” he said.

Brooks said many areas are also reporting waterborne diseases such as diarrhea. If the rain does not stop soon, medical care for such diseases will be difficult and could worsen the situation, he said. Government hospitals have already been converted into Covid-19 hospitals, he said.

The flooding and Covid-19 hit Assam as it was fighting African swine fever, a fatal viral disease among pigs. Close to 15,000 pigs reportedly died of the disease in April and May, affecting village farmers who depend on pigs for their livelihoods.

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