India: New flood alerts in Bombay, toll nears 1,000

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 31 Jul 2005
By Atul Prakash

BOMBAY, July 31 (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 cancelled 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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