20 million suffer as monsoon floods Bombay

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The Independent Online

More than 20 million people have been affected by the disastrously heavy monsoon rains in Maharashtra state in India.

New rains again flooded Bombay, which was just beginning to recover from last week's heaviest rainfall recorded in India. The centre of India's largest city and financial capital was again under water yesterday, and up to a third of the city was reported to be paralysed.

At least 924 people have died from flooding, landslides and electrocution caused by the rains in Maharashtra, 425 of them in Bombay. "The toll is expected to cross 1,000," K Vatsa, the rehabilitation secretary in Maharashtra state government, said.

Bombay, a city of 16 million people and the powerhouse of the Indian economy, has been largely cut off for days. Although the airport has reopened, few flights are taking off. When officials tried to reopen the airport last week, an Air India jumbo skidded off the waterlogged runway and disaster was narrowly averted.

People in central Bombay have been complaining of power cuts and a lack of clean water. Some say they have been without electricity for five days. Drinking water has been cut off after burst sewage pipes contaminated the supply.

Human bodies and animal carcasses are floating in the flooded streets, and there are fears of disease. Health workers were spraying insecticide to prevent malaria, and distributing medicine and disinfectant. The city authorities asked people to stay at home for their safety for a second day. Navy divers have been deployed to rescue survivors in low-lying areas of the city, which is built across a series of islands.

"The slums nearby are washed away," said Smita Gaikwad, who had to move to her brother's flat on the 10th floor because her ground-floor apartment was under two feet of water. "Dead buffaloes are floating. We didn't have power for 72 hours. Everybody is in a state of numbness."

There have been people demonstrating in the waterlogged streets, angry at what they say is an inadequate emergency response by the authorities.

Shakuntala Nath, a 68-year-old woman in a shanty home in Santa Cruz district, said: "We didn't sleep the whole night seeing the water level rise. Everything is wet; our beds, furniture, all our belongings. When will this stop?"

The rehoused people from shanty towns demolished months ago by the city as part of a grand scheme to turn Bombay into a "new Shanghai" found their temporary shelters too frail to withstand the floods and many were reportedly forced to take shelter in public toilets, exacerbating the risk of an epidemic.