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New flood alerts in Bombay, toll nears 1,000

July 31, 2005

By Atul Prakash

BOMBAY (Reuters) – Police urged millions of Bombay
residents to stay off the streets as heavy rains brought more
flooding to India’s financial hub on Sunday and relief
officials said the death toll in the region could reach 1,000.

Dead bodies and carcasses of animals were still strewn
across parts of Bombay and its suburbs from last week’s
flooding, raising fears of disease, TV and officials said.

“I hope there is no epidemic,” Maharashtra relief
commissioner Krishna Vatsa said.

The monsoon rains in the region have been the heaviest for
almost a century and, on Sunday, western India was drenched
again.

“We are appealing to people not to travel unless it is
absolutely necessary,” Police Commissioner A.N. Roy told
Reuters.

Officials said fatalities in the western state of
Maharashtra, including Bombay, were rising as more bodies were
dug out from villages flattened by landslides south of Bombay.

In Raigarh district, 150 km (93 miles) south of Bombay,
about 200 are dead or missing. At least 910 confirmed deaths
have been reported in the state, police said.

“The death toll in Raigarh is likely to go up by another
100 or so because more dead bodies are coming up. It (the
total) may touch around 1,000, including about 400 deaths in
Bombay,” said Vatsa.

“It’s raining and this will hamper the relief distribution
and search operations.”

NEGLECT

Industry officials said the damage bill would run to
billions of rupees in Bombay, headquarters to India’s biggest
firms, following the flooding.

“One understands the rains are unprecedented but, having
said that, the fact is that years of neglect of infrastructure
has showed up,” said Vivek Bharati, adviser to the Federation
of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“Something really needs to be done about it.”

Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said Sunday’s
rains had raised fears of new landslides in and around the
city.

“We are trying to shift people from danger areas so that no
tragedy occurs again,” Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao
Deshmukh said on NDTV television, adding authorities had asked
the army to be on standby.

Nearly 70 people were killed in Bombay’s northern suburb of
Andheri last week after they were trapped under a huge mound of
mud and rocks which flattened dozens of shanties on hillsides.

PROTESTS

In Bombay alone, hundreds have died in the city of over 15
million since Tuesday due to landslides, drowning,
electrocution in flooded streets and even by suffocating in
their cars as they waited out the rains for many hours.

There have been angry protests in several areas of the city
where thousands have been without electricity and drinking
water supplies since flooding started last Tuesday.

“The infrastructure in the city has collapsed but people
have a very short memory. We seem to forget and forgive and
don’t come up with a constructive plan,” said Josy John, a
Bombay resident.

“Already roads are in a bad shape and the situation is
going to worsen,” said John, who spent a couple of days in his
office following traffic disruptions due to the floods.

Reliance Energy, which supplies power to parts of Bombay,
said the flooding had damaged some transformers and feeders.

Long-distance trains on some routes have been canceled for
a week, leaving thousands stranded at railway stations, and
flights to and from Bombay airport, India’s busiest, have been
delayed as planes could not take off or land for about nine
hours on Sunday.

“Flights have started now. The visibility is clear,” said
Air India spokesman Jitendra Bhargava.

Airline officials said there was a huge backlog of pending
flights and waiting passengers. “There is tremendous pressure
on airlines,” Indian Airlines spokesman M. Swaminathan said.

Monsoon flooding kills hundreds every year in India and
covers huge swathes of land in the densely-populated nation,
home to hundreds of rivers.

(Additional reporting by Kamil Zaheer in NEW DELHI)




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