Many dead after pounding rains hit India

At least 99 people were reported killed and more than 100 trapped as India’s worst day of rainfall on record triggered landslides and building collapses in the western state of Maharashtra, a government official said on Wednesday.

Thirty-four of the deaths were reported in the state capital, Mumbai, also India’s commercial hub, which was paralysed by 24 hours of pounding monsoon rains, flooding the streets with waist-high water.

The deaths occurred in the suburban areas of Andheri and Navi Mumbai, said the official, who declined to be named, reading from a communiqué.

“These accidents were due to dilapidated walls or ceilings in old buildings and huts built along hill slopes,” he said.

The city’s weather bureau said that Mumbai received 94,42cm of rainfall in a 24-hour period, the most rainfall recorded in a single day in Indian history and beating the previous record from July 1910.

Road and air traffic to and from the city was suspended for a second day as the weather bureau forecast further heavy rains, although the downpours had stopped across most parts of the city by Wednesday afternoon.

Other areas in Maharashtra were also lashed by the rains that triggered landslides and flash floods in remote villages and left more than 65 dead with another 100 trapped, said the official.

Most of the deaths occurred in Raighad district, about 170km south of Mumbai, where miserable conditions made rescues difficult and left many villages stranded.

“Police rescue teams have still to reach affected villages as they’re inaccessible due to the heavy floods,” said senior inspector Sunil Dareghan.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and pledged federal government help to recover from the deluge as navy patrol boats were used to rescue people in badly flooded areas.

The Press Trust of India reported that 5 000 army and navy personnel joined the rescue effort in the worst-hit areas of the state, including Raighad, and that four military helicopters were being used to bring people to safety and drop food.

The government announced a public holiday in Mumbai as some commuters waded for hours through water thick with debris to reach home.

The main arteries were shut to most road and rail traffic. Power supplies, cut on Tuesday for safety reasons, were still erratic on Wednesday.

Schools in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane district were closed for two days while Mumbai’s bond, commodity and currency markets halted trading. The stock market stayed open but trade was thin.

“The city always gets heavy rains in the monsoon but it has never been like this.
The waters have not receded ...There’s no way I could get to work,” said Ashiwini Gupta, a call-centre staffer in suburban Mumbai.

Many people in the congested city of 15-million spent the night on Tuesday in hotels after roads were flooded and the suburban train service was halted.

“There are only two things I can see on the roads, water and people, and each is battling the other,” said Rakesh Mehra, a financial dealer who was trying to drive home.

Torrential rains have been pounding parts of the state for four straight days.

The annual monsoon rains that sweep the subcontinent from June to September routinely kill hundreds of people in India and cause widespread devastation.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil told Parliament on Wednesday that since the start of the monsoon season in early June, 633 people have lost their lives in floods or landslides.

About 76 000 animals have also been killed, and 700 000ha of land and 283 000 houses have been damaged.

He said 5,6-million people in 131 districts and 16 000 villages have been affected by the floods.—Sapa-AFP