By Krishna N. Das
NEW DELHI, India (Reuters) - Whenever the rain relents, staff at a waterlogged cancer hospital in northeast India seize the chance to administer chemotherapy to patients on the road outside, creating a pitiful image of the misery caused by the region's worst floods in years.
Located in the Barak valley in Assam state, the 150-bed Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Centre has been inundated for days, and the situation has become so dire that its administrators have requested life-jackets and an inflatable raft to transport patients and staff, along with other essential items needed to keep the facility running.
"Procedures that can be done outside, like chemotherapy and initial diagnosis, we are doing on the road where there is minimal water-logging," said Dharshana R, who heads the resource-mobilisation department of the hospital.
"If anybody requires emergency surgery we are conducting them, but we have reduced the overall numbers because of a shortage of nitrous gas required for anaesthesia," she said, adding that doctors had carried out about four operations in the past week, compared with around 20 before the flooding became too bad.
Fresh supplies of drinking water, food and diesel for back-up power, and fuel for cooking were all desperately needed, she said.
The nearby Barak river flows from the hills of an adjoining state. While the flood waters have started to recede in many other areas located near Assam's mighty Brahmaputra river, the situation in Cachar and its neighbouring Karimganj and Hailakandi districts continues to be grim, Assam's Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told Reuters.
In Assam and neighbouring Bangladesh, more than 150 people have died and millions have been displaced by the catastrophic floods in recent weeks, and in some low lying areas houses have been submerged.
Nearly all the beds at the cancer hospital were occupied before the floods worsened more than a week ago, but they have had to send patients home or to safer locations and now there are just 85 patients in its wards, according to Dharshana.
During the past 24 hours in Assam, five more people died as a result of the floods, taking the toll to 72 since the disaster began about three weeks ago. About 7.4 million people have been displaced in the state.
In Bangladesh, at least 84 people have died and more than 4.5 million have been stranded. Nearly 5,900 people have contracted various water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea, as the waters recede, the government said.
(Additional reporting by Zarir Hussain and Ruma Paul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)