July 27, 2005

Floods kill dozens in India as Bombay under water

By Thomas Kutty Abraham

BOMBAY (Reuters) - Floods and landslides killed at least 99
people in western India on Wednesday, with many more feared
dead after a wall of mud flattened a village.

Thousands of people were evacuated and tens of thousands
more were stranded as floodwaters raged throughout the
financial capital, Bombay, bringing road, air and rail links to
a halt.

Rescue teams reached the village of Juigaon, 150 km (90
miles) south of Bombay, and began digging for survivors and
bodies after a landslide flattened or buried more than 30
houses late on Tuesday. Officials estimated 150 people may have
been caught in the avalanche of mud.

"It is very likely that a large number of people would have
died in that landslide," state relief secretary, Krishna Vatsa,
told Reuters. "But we are hoping to find survivors."

The army, navy and air force were called in to help as
floodwaters swept the coast of Maharashtra state.

Vatsa said the situation in the worst-affected region south
of Bombay was improving as the rains had stopped and water
levels were receding. But the rescuers' work was hampered
because the weather had even disrupted their communications

In Bombay, meteorologists said heavy rains and high winds
were forecast to continue for another 48 hours, after a record
94 cm (37 inches) of rainfall in the north of the city during
the previous day, the highest since 1974.

Electricity and phone links were cut in Bombay, home to the
Bollywood movie industry, schools were shut and commuters were
stranded for a second day as trains and buses were canceled.

"We have deployed the army to help people stranded and to
evacuate those living in the low-lying areas," a government
spokesman said. "We have already evacuated around 10,000

About 40 of the deaths were in Bombay, including seven
children killed by a landslide in the upmarket suburb of


Cars and buses were abandoned in the north of the city and
thousands of commuters who spent the night in offices or hotels
walked 20 kms (12 miles) or more from the center to their

Commuter Alex Anthony, 44, said it had taken him 14 hours
to reach home in the early hours of Wednesday, walking on rail
tracks and wading chest-deep through water.

"It was like a river outside the station," he said.
"Firemen tied ropes to lamp-posts and a chain of people held
onto it to get through the water."

Trading on Bombay's bond and currency markets was
abandoned, flights in and out of the city were rerouted or
canceled and the government called a state holiday for
Wednesday and Thursday, advising people to stay at home.

Companies postponed board meetings and tourists to the city
of 15 million people waited for news about their flights, with
the lobby of the swanky seafront Taj Mahal hotel filled with
disconsolate travelers and their luggage.

Bombay airport, the country's busiest, was clearing its
waterlogged runway and hoped to resume international and
domestic flights later in the day.

Outside the city the armed forces helped relief officials
air-drop food packets to stranded people.

"The situation is so grave ... we are not in a position to
reach out to the people who are in the districts," Chief
Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told Indian television.

The chaos highlighted Bombay's desperately overloaded and
inadequate infrastructure. Authorities have recently begun
demolishing slums as part of a hugely ambitious $6 billion plan
to turn the city into a new Shanghai.

Flooding in the monsoon season in India, which runs from
June to September, kills hundreds of people each year and
disrupts life in wide swathes of land. (Additional reporting by
Rosemary Arackaparambil, Unni Krishnan, Atul Prakash and
Anirban Nag)