"Three people have died in the Surat floods and we are gearing up for relief work," said Gujarat Revenue Minister Kaushik Patel. However, agency reports put the death toll at 24.
Surat, the industrial city in Gujarat with more than 35 lakh people, is facing an unprecedented natural disaster and still remains marooned 48 hours after water from the raging Tapti river flooded it.
Boats of the Indian Army have not been able to enter the city so far. Government sources say that rescue or relief work of a substantial nature haven't even started yet.
More than seven lakh people are marooned on terraces and on high grounds are desperately waiting for help.
There are shortages of drinking water and food. The transport system between Ahmedabad and Surat has virtually snapped because of the floods.
Water levels have reached 15-20 feet in many areas and locals fear that many more people may have drowned in the flood waters.
The collector office in Surat is submerged under 12 feet of water, and a temporary control room which was set up Tuesday is also not functioning. The administration machinery has come to a standstill due to flooding in all government buildings.
In addition, the Gujarat government has said that since high tides in the Gulf of Cambay have been predicted at 8 pm on Wednesday, Surat may not get any respite for some more time.
While the Opposition in Gujarat has criticised the government for not taking enough preventive measures in Surat, the government is refuting the charge.
An influential minister in Gujarat told rediff.com that Surat is in the catchment area of the Tapti river. Due to very heavy rains in neighbouring Maharashtra, the Tapti's flow increased to nine lakh cusecs per second from the Ukai dam.
He also said that in 130 years, this is the first time thatsuch flows have been witnessed. No human efforts are possible to manage these waters, he stressed. He said normal flow is less than 4 lakh cusecs of waters in the monsoon.
The inflow into the Ukai has reduced to 7.5 lakh cusecs per second on Wednesday, he said.
He also added that Surat is so submerged that even military rescue boats could not enter even after repeated attempts. "We expect that military personnel will enter Surat anytime soon," he said.
Another cabinet minister actively involved in the rescue work told rediff.com, "The flooding of Surat is an unavoidable geographical eventuality."
The level helplessness in the city can be judged from the fact that full-scale rescue and relief operation has not started yet. However, Kaushik Patel said, "We have distributed, two million food packages and four million water and milk pouches by helicopter."
Officials say the situation in some other parts of Gujarat is far more worrisome.
A senior officer said, "The television media should not exaggerate the situation in Surat. Rather, the situation is worse in Datar in north Gujarat the media does not care to visit these far-flung areas."
Patel said, "Hundreds of workers of non-governmental organisations are ready to help and are waiting for the waters to recede. More than 2,000 medical fully-equipped workers will reach Surat by Thursday. The staff from the Ahmedabad and Rajkot municipal corporations will also be called to serve in Surat."
He said losses could run into billion of rupees because Surat has giant textile godowns and factories where water levels have reached more than 12 feet. The textiles and yarns if soaked will be written off.
Gujarat government officials say that real picture of the disaster and the human tragedy will be only known only after two days.