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Hopes fade for finding flood survivors in India

Workers began a massive clean-up and rescuers searched for survivors under mountains of debris in western India after record monsoon rains claimed 920 lives, officials said on Saturday.

Soldiers, police and rescue workers used bulldozers, cranes and their bare hands to remove boulders and rubble from areas hit by landslides as 130 000 municipal workers set about repairing pot-holed roads, clogged drains and electricity and drinking-water services.

RS Pardeshi of the police control room in Mumbai said the bodies of 37 people were recovered from the city overnight, taking the financial hub’s death toll from the floods to 407 and that of Maharashtra state to about 920.

”The total death toll in the state, including Mumbai city, is more than 900,” said S Jadhav, a senior police official with the police control room.

State deputy chief minister RR Patil on Friday, however, put the toll at 696 but did not explain why his figures differed from those of the police.

In the southern Mumbai region of Konkan, Indian soldiers used their bare hands, spades and shovels to recover bodies and clear the debris in one of the worst-hit areas, Jui village.

Rescue workers were searching for more bodies in Kotiwala in western Mumbai where flash floods left more than 40 dead.

Mumbai received 944,2mm of rainfall in a one-day period ending mid-morning on Wednesday, the most rainfall recorded to date in a single day in India, which caused flash floods and landslides in the city and outlying areas of the state.

Heavy rains accompanied by strong winds continued to lash the city on Saturday and made recovery operations difficult.

Flights from Mumbai’s airport, India’s busiest, were suspended for several hours on Saturday after an Air India Boeing 747 from the southern city of Bangalore skidded off a wet runway, officials said. None of the 333 passengers were hurt.

However, Johny Joseph, the municipal commissioner of Mumbai, said he hopes the city will recover completely within a few days.

”This disaster is unprecedented in the history of Mumbai,” Joseph said. ”The crisis worsened due to a combination of high tide, flooding and continuous rainfall. Rail and road traffic was disrupted totally and is almost restored now.”

”The biggest challenge of [the recovery operation] now is to clear the mud, muck and garbage that has been piled on the roads and pavements. It must be removed on a war footing,” he said in an interview.

Joseph said Mumbai’s 15-million residents normally throw out 5 000 tonnes of garbage daily, but during the last week it has gone up to three times that amount, to 15 000 tonnes.

”Things got wet and unusable and people are dumping them on the streets. To clear the garbage, we require a huge amount of manpower and machinery which has been pressed into service,” he said.

Thousands of bloated animal carcasses also littered the streets of Mumbai, fuelling fears of disease with estimates saying the carcasses of 17 000 goats and more than 1 000 buffaloes and cows are scattered throughout the city’s western and eastern suburbs.

”The disposal of carcasses is another priority area. To add to the woes, our department is also in charge of post-mortems. Water and electricity will be restored in all areas within two days. We are grappling with that too,” Joseph said.

The municipal chief said more than 100 water tankers are supplying drinking water to regions where there is no electricity.

SG Danle, deputy municipal commissioner of Mumbai, said 30 000 health workers spread out into the city and its suburbs to prevent the outbreak of water-borne diseases.

”The key words here are prevention, education and communication” Danle said.

”All the officers and workers are distributing pamphlets urging residents to boil water before drinking and not to walk through stagnated pools of water.

”We are also telling people not to eat food which is exposed to flies. Spraying of insecticides are being undertaken and there is no shortage of medical supplies,” he said.

Municipal chief Joseph said his department has also sought the help of non-governmental agencies and other volunteers to help bring the city back to its feet.

”Mumbai will bounce back soon,” he said. — Sapa-AFP

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