July 28, 2005

Floods, landslides kill over 500 in western India

By Thomas Kutty Abraham and Suresh Seshsadri

BOMBAY (Reuters) - More than 500 people have been killed by
floods and landslides in western India and thousands remained
stuck on Thursday in the nation's financial capital, Bombay,
following the worst ever monsoon rains in the region.

More than half the deaths were in Bombay, a city of 15
million where the roads began to clear and rail and air travel
began resuming tentatively after being shut down for two days.

Relief coordinators put the steadily rising death toll for
the western state of Maharashtra at 513.

Rescuers were trying to recover the bodies of an estimated
100 people buried under an avalanche of mud in the village of
Juigaon, 95 miles south of Bombay.

"The chances of finding any survivors from Jui are bleak,"
said Suresh Kakine, a senior state relief official.

A landslide at a slum near the Bombay suburb of Andheri
killed at least 56 people, and efforts were on to retrieve
dozens of more bodies believed to be buried in the mud.

Hundreds of oil workers arrived in Bombay on Thursday after
being rescued from an oil platform destroyed by fire off
India's west coast after a support vessel crashed into it in
rough seas on Wednesday, eyewitnesses said. Twelve people were

After being stranded since Tuesday, Bombay commuters made
their way home on trains and buses. The airport, India's
busiest, allowed some flights to take off after being shut for
two days.

Cars and bicycles were seen abandoned around the city,
while commuters who opted not to make a long, treacherous walk
home on Wednesday had spent a second night sleeping in offices
or hotels.

News channels carried rolling text messages from worried
family members trying to make sure their loved ones were

Bombay's stock, bond, currency and commodity markets were
all shut. As on Wednesday, the Maharashtra government called a
holiday for Thursday, advising people to stay home.

The chaos was a tough reminder of the inadequacies of
Bombay's infrastructure, despite a hugely ambitious $6 billion
plan to turn it into the next Shanghai.

"Mumbai deserves more attention," Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh told a news conference in the city, as he announced 5
billion rupees ($115 million) in additional aid for relief

"Its infrastructure must be modernized and made adequate
and fit enough for the commercial business capital of the

Many people killed in Bombay landslides were building a
road intended to improve traffic flow in the city, newspapers


One area in the north of Bombay received a record-breaking
94 cm (37 inches) of rain on Tuesday alone, representing nearly
half the normal rainfall for the four-month monsoon season.
Heavy rains are forecast for the next few days.

Thousands of people were evacuated as water raged through
the city's streets on Wednesday. Witnesses in a working class
area of northeast Bombay described how a rush of water suddenly
burst from a storm drain, washing a group of men away.

"I know swimming, but it was of no help. The force of the
water was too strong," said Aashish Thorat, a 22-year-old bank
employee who managed to grab on to a lamp post and hold on
until he was lifted out of the water by a few men in a passing

At Bombay's main railway station, most local train services
were running, but several hundred people sat on the concourse
waiting for long-distance trains to depart. A spokesman said
they would not get going until Friday morning at the earliest.

Nand Ramesh, a 20-year-old who came to Bombay seeking a job
that fell through, wanted to get a train back to his home state
of Orissa, on the other side of the country, but had no ticket.

"I was told this was the city of opportunity," he said. "I
have no money and no way of calling home."

Many Bombay commuters had to buy new clothes after being
stranded for two days, and cash machines ran out of money.

Those who made it home often faced bigger challenges when
they got there. Some living in some ground floor apartments
found water up to the ceiling, while others complained of
black, foul-smelling water running from taps after sewage pipe

Flooding in the monsoon season in India, which runs from
June to September, kills hundreds of people and disrupts life
across the country every year. ($1 = 43.5 Indian rupees)
(Additional reporting by Rina Chandran and Atul Prakash)