July 29, 2005

Stampede takes western India’s flood toll near 750

By Thomas Kutty Abraham

BOMBAY (Reuters) - At least 18 people died in a stampede in
the flood-ravaged Indian city of Bombay after rumors that a
lake had burst its banks, officials said on Friday.

The deaths take the toll from days of monsoon flooding in
western India to nearly 750.

Authorities in India's financial hub began shifting debris
to prevent the spread of disease and started counting the cost
of the rains which paralyzed the city for two days and left
tens of thousands of people struggling to return to
water-logged homes.

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

"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 local television. "It was totally dark
outside and in all the commotion a lot of people, especially
women and children, got pushed down and trampled."

Seven children were among the 18 killed in the stampede,
police said. Authorities then used loudspeakers to calm
panic-stricken residents.

"There were rumors of a lake bursting its banks ... and a
tsunami that led to the stampede," a police official said.

Bombay's mayor urged people not to listen to rumors.

"It's easy to scare the people now as they have suffered a
lot due to the flood," Dalvi Dattaji told Reuters.


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

A landslide at a slum near the Bombay suburb of Andheri
killed at least 67 people, and efforts continued to retrieve
dozens more bodies believed to be buried in the rubble and mud.

"The number may rise, especially in Mumbai (Bombay) and
Thane," the Press Trust of India news agency quoted Maharashtra
Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh as saying. "We are tackling
the situation as a national calamity."

Rescuers were still 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.

Newspapers reported that 16 people had died in their cars
in Bombay, trapped by rising water levels which jammed the

City authorities and health workers began clearing rubbish
which had been washed onto the streets, spraying against
mosquitoes and handing out medicine to stop diseases.

"Our focus currently is to prevent outbreaks of any major
diseases. Wastes are being cleared on an urgent basis and we
have advised people to drink only boiled water for the next
four to five days," Dattaji said.

Meteorologists warned more rains may be on the way even as
the city tried to get back to normal. Roads were clearing,
trains were running more frequently and Bombay's airport began
operating normally after being shut 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
-- returned to work, and trading on financial markets resumed.

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,
announced a 5 billion rupee ($115 million) aid package for
relief work but Dattaji said the city would require at least 10
billion rupees to repair damaged roads, rail and other

The federation of chambers of commerce said the loss of
business income for the region was about 7 billion rupees, 4.5
billion of that for the city alone. ($1 = 43.48 rupees)
(Additional reporting by Suresh Seshadri)