Scores missing in Nepal as heavy rains spark cholera fears

KATHMANDU - Rescuers in Nepal struggled to recover bodies Sunday after monsoon rains swept away houses, killing at least 85 people and sparking fears of a deadly cholera outbreak, officials said.

Torrential rains last week led to multiple landslides and flooding, killing 85 people and leaving more than 100 others unaccounted for, according to the home ministry.

The rains have damaged roads across the country's western plains bordering India, forcing officials to rely on helicopters to rescue stranded people as well as deliver emergency supplies.

As the weather cleared up late Saturday, improving visibility after three days of incessant rain, army officials evacuated thousands from badly-hit Bardiya district in the country's western plains, said home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal.

"We have evacuated 18,200 people in Bardiya and moved them to relief centres where they can get help," Dhakal told AFP.

"Our main worry now is of a possible cholera outbreak among the affected people. We have not seen any cases yet, but the health ministry has established camps to prevent any epidemic," Dhakal said.

Cholera, which causes severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration, is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with human faeces.

As water levels slowly recede, rescuers have started moving out people out from their damaged homes into temporary shelters, said national disaster management chief Yadav Prasad Koirala.

"We are working hard to find the missing 113 people. Our choppers have been running sorties but it's a struggle," Koirala told AFP.

Monsoon rains also forced officials to close a major bridge along the country's longest highway after it developed cracks and caved in.

The deaths come two weeks after the worst landslide in over a decade smashed into hamlets in hilly, northeastern Nepal, killing 156 people.

Meanwhile, heavy downpours in neighbouring India have claimed at least 24 lives since Friday in northern Uttarakhand state, reviving memories of a deadly deluge last year that killed more than 5,000 people in the same region.

Hundreds of people die every year in floods and landslides during the monsoon season in South Asia.