Strong rains killed 56 in India

Heavy downpours killed at least 56 people, and thousands of others were evacuated as swollen rivers flooded their banks in southwest India, officials said Wednesday.

The coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh state were battered by torrential rains following a tropical cyclone that hit the area two days earlier, the AP reports.

Railroad tracks and major highways connecting cities along the coast were flooded as the state's two main rivers breached embankments on Tuesday, Shashank Goel, an official in charge of disaster management, said in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh.

More than 140,000 residents of low-lying villages have been evacuated to 465 relief camps set up in government buildings and schools located on higher ground in the worst-hit Khammam, East Godavari, West Godavari and Krishna districts, Goel said.

At least 23 trains, some of them linking north India to the southern parts of the country, were canceled and 12 more were diverted to other routes.

Officials said at least 50 people were killed by the strong rains and winds, which flattened homes, knocked down power lines and uprooted trees. Six people were killed when their homes in the coastal districts collapsed Tuesday.

The Godavari and Krishna rivers were flowing above the danger mark and had breached their banks at several places, flooding fields and farms along their banks.

Floods also have demolished more than 77,000 homes and caused partial damage to another 7,800 homes. Nearly 500 irrigation tanks have developed cracks, Goel said.

At least 102,792 hectares (254,000 acres) of tobacco, rice and vegetable fields were damaged or washed away by surging flood waters, said Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, the state's top elected official.

"We will have a full picture of the crop losses only after the water recedes," Reddy said Wednesday.

Sections of the major highways linking coastal towns to Hyderabad were submerged, leaving hundreds of trucks, buses and cars stranded.

In the coastal town of Kottagudem, thousands of homes were washed away when a small rain-swollen river burst its banks. Nearly 10,000 residents of the town were rescued by boats and were in a nearby relief camp.

State relief agencies were using helicopters to rescue people in some of the worst-hit areas and to deliver thousands of tons of food, medicines, tarps and blankets to the camps.

India's monsoon season lasts from June to September.

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