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OFFICIALS WORRY ABOUT MASSIVE PLAGUE OUTBREAK

An outbreak of deadly pneumonic plague eased Sunday in Surat, but government officials worried the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the stricken city could spread the disease to other parts of India.

Residents of the shantytowns that ring this city of 2 million, meanwhile, blamed local authorities for not moving fast enough to clear the animal carcasses and garbage left after recent floods."This area of the city is a living hell," said one man, Bansi Mali, who cremated his younger brother last week. "It is the municipality, not the plague, that has killed my brother."

Pneumonic plague, a strain of the bubonic plague or "Black Death" that ravaged 14th-century Europe and Asia, has so far killed at least 51 people in Surat, a city on India's Arabian Sea coast. Hundreds of people were hospitalized.

Officials declared Surat a disaster zone and rushed in millions of capsules of antibiotics. The plague, spread by fleas that have bitten infected rats and from person to person by airborne bacteria, can be cured if antibiotics are administered quickly enough.

Kundan Lal, a city administrator, said Sunday that Surat's civil hospital reported three deaths and 36 new cases overnight - a sharp drop from the rate since the first plague victim died Thursday.

"The situation is settling down," said Dr. Rajesh Parmar, a senior physician at the hospital. "Mortality has reduced. The rush of new patients has also decreased."

But few were prepared to say the outbreak was under control in Surat, and doctors and government officials stressed India still faces the risk of a plague epidemic.

An estimated 400,000 people fled Surat as authorities began spraying insecticides around the city and handing out antibiotics.

Some went 160 miles south to Bombay, where 13 suspected pneumonic plague cases were being tested Sunday at Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases, including 10 from Surat, said Dr. R. Kadam.