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Heavy rains in India have caused deadly flooding and landslides

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to India, where over 100 people have died in flooding and landslides caused by monsoon rains. Much of the flooding over the past two weeks has been in the northern parts of the country, and parts of New Delhi, the capital, are also under water. We go now to freelance reporter Sushmita Pathak, who's based in Delhi. Sushmita, thanks so much for being with us.

SUSHMITA PATHAK: Good morning.

SIMON: What do you see there in Delhi?

PATHAK: We are seeing really dramatic scenes here. The Yamuna River that goes through Delhi has been flowing at record high levels - it was at about 680 feet on Wednesday - and that has inundated nearby low-lying areas. Thousands of people have had to be evacuated. They've been shifted to relief camps. Traffic came to a halt in several places. It's also affected the city's drinking water supply. And some important landmarks like the iconic Mahatma Gandhi Memorial are also waterlogged. The area near India's Supreme Court is also waterlogged. And TV news footage shows waist-deep water in some places.

There's also this 17th-century fort that's also flooded. It's called the Red Fort. This is where the prime minister gives the Independence Day speech every year. And what's striking is that originally the Yamuna River used to flow right by the fort. It used to feed moats surrounding the fort. But the river changed course over the years. And now it seems like the river has reclaimed its original path, and Delhi residents are getting a glimpse of what the fort looked like several centuries ago.

SIMON: What's life been like over the past couple of weeks?

PATHAK: Over the past two weeks, there have been really intense spells of rain across northern India. So that is several states. Most of the damage has been in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. That's the mountainous area about 300 miles north of Delhi. Key highways there are damaged due to landslides. You know, we've seen, again, very dramatic footage of bridges and whole buildings just swept away in overflowing rivers. Tens of thousands of tourists were stranded there. It's a tourist destination. And the army has been called in for rescue operations there. Most of the deaths also occurred in Himachal Pradesh. And more heavy rain is forecast across a number of states in the coming days.

Coming to Delhi last weekend, Delhi had the third-highest amount of rain recorded in a single day in July. That was about six inches, according to India's weather department. It didn't rain much last week in Delhi, but a dam north of Delhi has been releasing water, and that's caused the Yamuna River to overflow. I was there last Tuesday. I was going on a bridge over the river. I could see this huge expanse of brown muddy water. And by Thursday, the river was flowing at an all-time high. It started receding, though, on Friday.

SIMON: Of course, summer is monsoon season, but are we seeing the effects of climate change?

PATHAK: You're right. So this is monsoon season. So heavy rains are expected during this time of the year. But climate change is making intense spells of rain more frequent, and that's increasing the likelihood of landslides and flash floods, especially in vulnerable mountainous areas like Himachal Pradesh. That state has also seen a lot of construction activity in recent years, and experts are cautioning now that infrastructure development should be mindful of the fragile environment there and the risks associated with it. Climate change is also making heat waves more common. So overall, extreme weather events are increasing in India because of climate change.

SIMON: Reporter Sushmita Pathak in Delhi. Thanks so much for being with us.

PATHAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.