Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 12:20 UK

Searching for survivors in India floods

The BBC Hindi service's Mohanlal Sharma joins a rescue operation by Indian soldiers in the flood-ravaged Madhepura district of the state of Bihar.

Flood victims in Bihar's Madhepura district
India's prime minister has called the floods a national calamity

When I boarded an army boat in this remote area of Bihar, our mission was to search for life.

We were to find men, women and children stranded by the floods.

The area is under 10 feet of water and we were told people have been marooned in some pockets without food or water for five days.

The road from Madhepura to the adjacent district of Purnea has turned into a sea.

As we set out looking for survivors in the flood-affected Murliganj area, the soldiers gave me a life jacket to wear since I cannot swim.

Our boat sets out with 10 soldiers, we also take a local guide with us - it is not easy to find your way when there are no roads.

The boat can carry about 50 people.

'Waving frantically'

We've been sailing for an hour and all we see around us is water - everywhere.

It's difficult to imagine there could still be survivors here.

And then, suddenly we see a group of women and children, sheltering on the roof of a house, shouting and waving frantically to attract our attention.

Flood-affected Madhepura district in Bihar
A boat can make the difference between life and death in Bihar

Some others have climbed the nearby trees.

On getting closer, the soldiers throw out ropes to the women.

The women clutch the rope and advance towards the boat, many of them carrying babies in their arms.

I too pitch in, helping carry children onto the boat.

Some soldiers jump into the water and carry old women on their shoulders to the safety of the boat.

Soon, the boat is filled up - there are more than 40 people, including 24 children, three men and the remaining all women.

Their next stop will probably be the relief centres.


But having seen the grim condition at these shelters, I am wondering how their next few days, or weeks, or months will be.

But, for the moment, they are happy to have survived.

The soldiers too appear happy - they have managed to save all these lives.

With the boat filled up, we have to be on our way soon.

As we leave, we can see hope in the eyes of those left behind, perhaps wondering when the boat will return for them.

For here, the distance between life and death is bridged by just one boat.

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