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Record-setting Rains Wreak Havoc in Bombay

  • Patricia Nunan

India's financial capital, Bombay, all but ground to a halt Wednesday after record-breaking rains flooded roads and shut down the airport and train network. The chaos left thousands stranded and mudslides killed more than 70, as the government deployed military personnel to help with the relief effort.

The government has deployed troops and extra police personnel armed with inflatable rafts to reach the thousands of people left stranded across Bombay by the heavy rains. Many are commuters stuck in train and bus-stations after the rising floodwaters forced the cancellation of most public transportation.

Thousands of others trudged kilometers through what was sometimes waist-high water to reach home. The record-setting rain snapped cables and caused the closure of the airport.

The government closed schools and declared an official holiday for businesses after the intense downpour Tuesday overwhelmed the city's drainage systems.

"Unfortunately, a most unprecedented rainfall of 660 millimeters took place in six hours - and unfortunately the city cannot cope with this," says John Joseph, the commissioner of the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

Bombay is India's financial capital, associated more with big business and the country's homegrown film industry, called "Bollywood," than with the infrastructure problems that plague other parts of the country.

But not even the wealthy escaped the problems caused by this rain. Dozens of people spent the night in the lobby of the five-star Taj Lands End hotel, after their flights were canceled or they could not reach home due to the flooding.

Businessman John Glennon, a hotel guest, says he and his colleagues spent six hours in a car trying to return to their hotel from central Bombay.

"Water came up to the seats," he said. "We were sitting with the laptops (portable computers) on our heads. Waves were coming over the car - because cars were coming in the opposite direction and were pushing wakes of water all over us. Luckily some local boys - like a boat, the car was floating - and they pushed us about half a mile onto dry land."

In poorer areas, problems were worse. At least nine people in Bombay have died, by drowning or when rain-sodden walls collapsed on them. Officials say more than 20 people have died in mudslides in towns and villages across Maharashtra, the state where Bombay is located. Local news reports say the number may be more than 60.

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