“There was water everywhere, but not a single drop to drink.”
That is how Ronju Chowdhary described the scene outside her house on Saturday. She lives in Udiana, a remote village in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, which has been hit by severe floods.
It had been raining incessantly, she remembers. The water rose so quickly that the streets were completely submerged within hours. When the water entered their home, she says the family huddled together in darkness trying to keep themselves safe.
Two days on, the family is still marooned in their house – now resembling a lonely island – amid a sea of water.
“We are surrounded by flood water from all sides. There’s hardly any water to drink. Food is running short too. And now I hear that the water levels are further rising,” Ms Chowdhary says. “What will happen to us?”
Unprecedented rainfall and flooding has left behind a trail of destruction in Assam, submerging villages, destroying crops, and wrecking homes. Authorities say that 32 of its 35 districts have been affected, killing at least 45 people and displacing more than 4.7 million over the last week.
Heavy rains have also lashed neighbouring Meghalaya state, where 18 people have died over the last week. In Assam, the government has opened 1,425 relief camps for the displaced, but authorities say their job has been complicated by the sheer intensity of the disaster. Even the rescue camps are in a dismal state.
“There is no drinking water in the camp. My son has a fever but I am unable to take him to the doctor,” says Husna Begum, also a resident of Udiana. When water reached her home on Wednesday, the 28-year-old swam through the torrent in search of help. She is now sheltering in a rickety plastic tent with her two children.
“I have not seen something like this before. I’ve never seen such huge floods in my life,” she says.
Floods routinely wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of millions living near the fertile riverbanks of the mighty Brahmaputra river, often called the lifeline of Assam. But experts say that factors like climate change, unchecked construction activities and rapid industrialisation have increased the frequency of extreme weather events.
This is the second time this year that Assam is grappling with such fierce floods – at least 39 people were killed in May. The state has already recorded rainfall 109% above average levels this month, according to the weather department. And the Brahmaputra is flowing above the danger mark at many places.
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