SAHARSA DISTRICT, India — Hungry villagers rioted, desperate families swam for their lives and chaos spread across a wide swath of flooded plains in northern India on Tuesday as authorities mounted one of the country's largest relief efforts.
Soldiers and aid workers scrambled to reach hundreds of thousands of people still stranded on rooftops, in trees and on specks of dry land, more than two weeks after monsoon rains caused the Kosi River to burst its banks and turn hundreds of square miles of Bihar state into a giant lake.
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The road linking Saharia village to the rest of the hard-hit Saharsa district washed away Monday. Those who could braved the fast-flowing, neck-deep water, carrying bicycles above their heads and bags of clothes on their shoulders. Some swam out into the stream, dragging frightened cattle after them.
"The water came on Saturday, and since then no government officials have come to us," said Ram Bachan Rai, 60, a Saharia resident.
The army sent more than 5,000 soldiers to join rescue efforts, and officials said more than half of the 1.2 million stranded had been rescued. Estimates of those killed ranged from dozens to thousands.
Relief efforts were haphazard amid the chaos. New areas were cut off, posing fresh challenges to rescuers, and strong currents hampered their work.