July 29, 2005

Stampede kills 18 in flood-hit Bombay

BOMBAY (Reuters) - At least 18 people, including seven
children, were killed in the rain-ravaged Indian city of Bombay
when rumors that a lake had burst its banks triggered a slum
stampede, police said on Friday.

The stampede pushed the death toll from two days of monsoon
flooding and landslides in the country's financial hub and the
surrounding western state to nearly 700 people.

People in a crowded slum in the north of the city of 15
million rushed out of their homes in pitch darkness late on
Thursday, hearing rumors of floods that turned out to be

"People were already on the edge after heavy rains in the
last few days and rumors had been swirling around," a police
official said. "There were rumors of a lake bursting its banks
... and a tsunami that led to the stampede."

Seven people were injured in the stampede and police used
loudspeakers to dispel rumors and calm the panicky residents.

"We didn't quite understand what was going on but everyone
was rushing out of their houses and we also followed them," one
young mother told Indian television. "It was totally dark
outside and in all the commotion a lot of people, especially
women and children, got pushed down and trampled."

Another woman said she fell as the crowd tried to rush out
of the narrow lanes of the low-lying slum to higher ground.

"Everyone was shouting and screaming that the sea-water is
coming or that a dam had burst."


In other parts of the city, roads were clearing after the
worst of the floodwaters subsided and authorities appealed to
people to retrieve the cars they had abandoned when flooding
brought the city to a standstill on Tuesday.

Trains were running, albeit with delays, and Bombay's
airport had started operating normally after being closed for
two days.

Workers who had finally made it home on Thursday, after one
or two nights in hotels, on office floors or on the street,
began returning to work, and trading on financial markets

Relief coordinators put the city's death toll at about 370,
over half the total for the whole of the state of Maharashtra.

Rescuers were still trying to recover the bodies of an
estimated 100 people buried under an avalanche of mud in the
village of Juigaon, 150 km (95 miles) south of Bombay.

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

Newspapers reported that about 16 people, including three
teenage college students, had died in their cars, trapped by
rising water levels which jammed the doors.

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

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visiting Bombay on Thursday
to announce a 5 billion rupee ($115 million) aid package for
relief work, said the city's infrastructure needed modernising
to be fit enough for the country's commercial capital.
(Additional reporting by Suresh Seshadri)