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Flood waters inundate capital of Bangladesh; death toll rises

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Residents waded through sewage and rowed boats on flooded roads yesterday in this city of 10 million people, as 44 more drowning victims were found and the death toll from monsoon rains exceeded 1,100 across South Asia.

The annual monsoon flooding, fed by melting snow and torrential rains, has left millions across South Asia marooned or homeless. At least 686 people have died in India, 102 in Nepal, and five in Pakistan, according to official reports.

The new deaths were reported in the past two days in central and northern Bangladesh as waters receded in some flooded areas, raising the toll in this delta nation to 394, the government said. Most of the deaths were caused by drowning, lightning, snakebites, and outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

The flooding in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, has not only affected shantytowns built in low-lying areas, but neighborhoods and parts of the central business district.

Holding their belongings over their heads, residents waded through the waist-deep flood waters, which had mixed with sewage and turned blackish and foul-smelling. The use of small wooden boats and cycle rickshaws, the only modes of transportation available in the floods, created traffic jams. Electrical wires dangled dangerously over some roads.

The floods in Bangladesh are the worst since 1998. They have engulfed two-thirds of the country, affecting more than 25 million people. Up to 1.3 million displaced people huddled in about 4,000 flood shelters. Villagers have pitched tents on highways or mud embankments with their families and cattle.

Authorities repaved streets in parts of Dhaka following devastating floods six years ago, an effort to raise them above flood levels. New houses have been built on pillars or with higher foundations.

But the rising water still entered the ground floor of Mohammad Shaheen's single-story brick house a few days ago.

''I had to raise the bed with up to six bricks today, but I could not put bricks under the wardrobe, as it was too heavy to move," he said. He planned to send his family to his in-laws in the unaffected southeastern city of Chittagong.

Many Dhaka residents built bamboo bridges to get from the flooded streets to their front doors. Businesses have bricks and sandbags stacked at the entrances to keep water out.

Underground water reservoirs and gas outlets were inundated, causing shortages of clean water and cooking fuel. Schools were closed and crammed with the homeless. Children swam in the dirty water or cast nets to catch small fish.

About 500 to 600 patients, mostly children, are admitted each day at a center in Dhaka for diseases related to diarrhea, doctors said.

Many children are also suffering from fever, coughs, and rashes, they said.

The government said it has sent 3,500 medical teams to the worst-hit areas and distributed food, medicine, and drinking water.

But many residents contended that the supplies were inadequate.

At a school housing 3,500 evacuees in Dhaka's Mugdapara District, women gathered around small stoves on the verandahs to cook their meager rations.

''We have been here for seven days, but we only got some rice and lentils from relief workers," said Kanakfool Begum, huddled with her two children and her husband, a rickshaw puller.

Last year, 1,500 people died in South Asia during the mid-June to mid-October monsoon season.

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