A metre of rain in one day shuts Bombay and leaves 99 dead

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The Independent Online

More than a third of Bombay was under water last night after the city suffered the heaviest rains recorded in India. At least 99 people have been killed in two days of a catastrophic deluge across Maharashtra state. Parts of suburban Bombay had almost three feet in a one day.

Railway stations across the city were crammed with hundreds of thousands of people, stranded after all train services were cancelled. Electricity and phone lines were cut. India's largest city and financial capital, home to 13 million inhabitants and the Bollywood film industry, has ground to a halt.

The international airport, the busiest in India, was closed for a second day as the runway was still flooded. International flights were being diverted to Delhi, 700 miles away.

At least 99 confirmed deaths were reported in just two days across Maharashtra, with 130 people missing and feared trapped after their village was flattened by a mudslide caused by the rain. In the city, office workers walked and waded home or slept at work. Hundreds of children had to spend the night at their schools.

Jayant Shah walked through the night from his office to get to his daughter. "It was safer that my daughter was in school because I was stuck in my office. I'm trying to reach her school after walking and hopping in and out of buses," he said.

Another man, Yamini Patil, said: "We were stuck in a bus all through the night with nothing to eat or drink. It was impossible to get out because there was water all around."

Hundreds of people die every year in India's monsoon rains, but they are rarely severe enough to affect a massive, wealthy city such as Bombay. The past two day's rain in Maharashtra have been on an altogether different scale. On Tuesday, parts of Bombay had over 94cm of rain in a day, more than most parts of the world get in a year. In recent years, much of India has been reeling under disastrous floods that ruined crops and bankrupted farmers. Two months ago, weather forecasters were predicting the monsoon would fail and the drought continue.

The figures, read to parliament by the Home Minister, Shivraj Patel yesterday, are sobering. In two months of the monsoon so far, 5.6 million people have been affected by flooding or landslides in 16,000 villages. At least 633 people have died. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. More than 76,000 head of livestock have been killed and 1.72 million acres of crops have been destroyed.

The Bombay rainfall may be a world record for a single day. It broke the Indian record of 83.82cm, held by Cherrapunji since 1910; Cherrapunji, known as the "rainiest place on earth", still holds the record for annual rainfall. But Cherrapunji is on the top of a hill, so does not flood easily. Bombay is built across low-lying islands.

Last night, weather forecasters were predicting that the rain would be continuing for a further 48 hours yet.