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Indian flood victims face food shortages

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  • Indian flood victims now face food shortages
  • 450,000 families displaced after dam in Nepal broke on August 18
  • 2.7 million people in 1,600 villages might have been affected
  • Agencies scramble to help, but damaged infrastructure hampers efforts
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PURNIA, India (CNN) -- The piercing wails from little lungs fill the air at this makeshift relief camp in Bihar's flood-ravaged Purnia district.

The babies scream for food. Their mothers cradle them in loving arms but cannot soothe the hunger in their bellies.

Food is scarce for the hundreds of people who have sought shelter here. They huddle under tents made from blankets and propped up by bamboo stems.

And when aid workers ration out rice, they quickly devour it.

"We ran for our lives and now we are dying here for food," said Bachni Devi, who arrived at the camp with ten small children and a pregnant daughter in tow.

"We are dying even for clothes. All our animals are also dying."

Government officials say that 450,000 families have been displaced after a dam in Nepal broke on August 18. It breached the eastern embankment of the Kosi River, a waterway that straddles the India-Nepal border. Video Watch a doctor's efforts to help child survivors in Bihar »

Water flushed through the breach so forcefully that the river changed course in Bihar, gobbling up thousands of villages and marooning residents on thin strips of dry land in India and Nepal.

UNICEF says the floods -- the worst in decades in the region -- have destroyed almost a quarter of a million homes affecting at least 1.4 million people in Bihar. The number of displaced in Nepal total 70,000.

Indian federal and state governments have released conflicting death tolls for Bihar that vary greatly. UNICEF said at least 55 people have died, adding that the figure would rise.

Government and aid agencies swung into action to help the thousands of people who fled the fast-moving waters. But submerged roads and railways have made it difficult to transport supplies to many relief camps.

Still, thousands of homeless residents wade through knee- and often waist-deep waters and walk for miles to reach the camps. They carry their meager belongings on their head, and their babies in their arms.

Until workers can repair the breached embankment, displaced residents will not be able to return home.

And so they wait, braving extreme heat and the threat of communicable diseases in crowded quarters.

For many, such as Tangita Kumari, the relief camps will be the only home she will know for weeks, perhaps months.

The two-day old baby was born in a camp after her mother fled the floods ten days ago.

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Her sister, just a few years older than her, bawls at her mother's side.

"She is crying for food," her mother, who goes by the name Laxmi, said. "She doesn't have enough food."

CNN's Sara Sidner contributed to this report

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