Sixty dead, 200 missing in Bombay landslide

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The Independent Online

At least 60 slum-dwellers were killed and another 200 were trapped, feared dead, when a hillside in Bombay, India's commercial capital, collapsed in torrential rain that has lashed the city for 12 days.

At least 60 slum-dwellers were killed and another 200 were trapped, feared dead, when a hillside in Bombay, India's commercial capital, collapsed in torrential rain that has lashed the city for 12 days.

Whole families were thought to have died when their homes were buried in a slide of mud and rock as the hillside in the eastern suburb gave way in an explosive landslide on Wednesday evening.

Rescuers hampered by the continuing monsoon deluge could dig with only their bare hands at one point because the disaster site was almost impossible to reach with heavy machinery. The death toll was made worse by the fact that most of the victims were migrant day labourers who had remained at home after their work had been cancelled because of the atrocious weather.

Last night a disaster relief committee was set up to alleviate the suffering of the survivors and the families of the victims of the tragedy. Families had been warned of the danger in recent days after six people died in the same area last year in a similar mudslide. But the families, who are among Bombay's poorest, had little choice but to remain.

Weather forecasters said that as much as 14 inches of rain fell in the area in 24 hours, triggering the collapse. "There was a blast and brown smoke everywhere," said one witness. "It looked as if the slide was coming towards us."

The shanty houses precariously perched on the hillside had no chance. Whole streets were swept away or buried. By last night 60 bodies had been pulled free, but officials held out little hope for the remaining 200 believed trapped.

Police Inspector Chandrakant Kate told of the scene the rescuers faced. "It is very difficult. We can't bring in machines, so we have to work with our bare hands. Whole families appear to have been wiped out. The toll is sure to go up as we have not been able to reach the entire location."

Officials said the erosion of the hillside had probably caused the disaster. The slums of illegal dwellings had been cut into the slope in the city of 12 million people, where space is at a premium. Almost two-thirds of the population lives in slums.

The rain, which left many areas of the city without electricity, continued all day yesterday, although it eventually eased in the evening. Roads in many areas were waist-deepin water and rail services were in chaos.

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