July 27, 2005

Floods kill 140 in India; Bombay under water

By Thomas Kutty Abraham

BOMBAY (Reuters) - Floods and landslides killed about 140
people in western India on Wednesday, and scores more were
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, rail and air 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 100 to 150 people
may have been caught in the avalanche of mud.

"The death toll is likely to increase because we are
receiving more reports of deaths from different parts and we
have a major landslide," Krishna Vatsa, the state relief
secretary, told Reuters.

"In Jui we are estimating about 100 but information is
still coming in."

Vatsa said the total death toll elsewhere in Maharashtra
state was about 140, including 40 killed in Bombay.

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

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 rescue work was hampered because the
weather had disrupted their communications networks and they
were unable to airlift boats as planes could not take off.

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.

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 already evacuated around 10,000 people," a
government spokesman said.

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 but by Wednesday evening airlines said they
were still not operating.

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)