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Aug 24, 4:08 AM EDT

Monsoon floods have killed at least 175 in India since June

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NEW DELHI (AP) -- Heavy monsoon rains have ended two successive drought years in India with the Ganges River and its tributaries rising above the danger level, triggering evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from flooded homes in north and eastern India, an official said Wednesday.

Drowning, electrocution or injuries from collapsed houses have killed at least 175 people, mainly in West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states this season, said Rakesh Ranjan, a National Disaster Response Force official. Lightning has killed 57 people in Bihar state.

Ranjan said flooding worsened after water was discharged from various dams brimming after heavy rains in Madhya Pradesh and Uttrakhand states.

Floods occur in many parts of India during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September.

In the Hindu holy town of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, flooding forced a halt to cremations at a main riverfront area. Some people have been lighting the funeral pyres at rooftops along the flooded river bank.

Devout Hindus bring dead family members to Varanasi in the belief that being cremated there frees their soul from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Ranjan said on Wednesday that floodwaters have entered the low-lying areas of Varanasi, which is popular with foreigners for its maze of buildings, temples and spiritual heritage. Thousands of pilgrims queue at the ghats, or steps, leading to the Ganges to take their holy dip.

In Bihar state, more than 100,000 people have been evacuated from flooded villages and moved to government-run relief camps in the worst-hit districts of Patna, Vaishali, Bhojpur and Saran districts, said Vyas Ji, a top state relief official.

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