A herd of nearly 120 wild Asiatic elephants trooped into a crowded town from an adjoining mountain range in India's remote northeast, forcing thousands of sleeping residents to run for their lives, authorities said. At least two people were injured.
As the elephants roamed the streets of Hojai, a town 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state, police and wildlife officials fired in the air, burst firecrackers and beat drums to scare them away, said KK Das, the superintendent of police.
The elephants injured two people and damaged several bamboo houses while retreating before dawn on Tuesday.
The injured have been hospitalized, he said. The town has a population of nearly 100,000.
Authorities took up to five hours to send nearly 70 elephants out of the town, while the rest entered a a college playground with police and forest wardens standing guard, Das said. "Gigantic elephants with calves were marching around the city streets giving a torrid time to police and wildlife officials who had to herd the elephants away by firing gunshots into the air," Das said.
"After dusk, we used crackers, beat drums and fired gunshots in the air to drive the herd away outside the city limits into nearby jungles," he said.
Authorities asked people to stay indoors.
Conflicts between humans and elephants have escalated in northeastern India in recent years as the destruction of the elephants' natural habitat has expanded, forcing them to forage for food in human areas.
In the past five years, more than 250 people have been killed in Assam by elephants, while angry villagers killed 268 elephants during the same period. Assam is estimated to have 5,300 Asiatic elephants.
On Sunday, a hunter shot and killed a 10-feet tall elephant declared a rogue by authorities after it killed 14 people in the past two years in northern Assam.