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Floods, Landslides in India Kill Hundreds

  • Patricia Nunan

More than 500 people have died as a result of torrential rains in and around the Indian city of Bombay. In one area, workers are trying to reach some 100 people buried under a landslide, but hopes are fading that anyone will be found alive.

Rescue workers used pick axes, shovels and an earth-moving machine Thursday to remove tons of debris that had fallen in a landslide in the Bombay slum area of Saki Nagar.

Witnesses say shacks built at the top of a cliff fell when the cliff collapsed in heavy rains Tuesday. Along with tons of earth and stone, they landed on other shacks built about 100 meters below.

Teams of volunteers lined the narrow alleyways leading out of the slum area to pass rocks and debris away from the site.

Fourteen-year-old Mohammed Azad says nine members of his family are buried under the debris. He and his one surviving relative are no longer hopeful they will be found alive.

The teenager says he was outside when the landslide happened. But he saw it and started shouting for people to leave. But before they could get out, everything just came down.

Witnesses say the cliff collapsed in the late afternoon Tuesday. But it was not until a day later that police and fire department officials reached the scene. It was even longer before they brought in heavy equipment to help residents and panicked family members in their desperate search for survivors.

Officials say the rain that began Tuesday was the heaviest Bombay has ever recorded. It caused power outages, downed phone lines, shut the airport and brought the city's train and bus services to a halt, leaving thousands stranded.

Bombay's Joint Chief Fire Officer, G.S. Sawant, says rescue workers would have reached the landslide site sooner, but they simply did not know about it until the morning after.

"The telephone and all communications from day before yesterday was dead," he said. "We got the call yesterday in the morning at 8 o'clock."

Saki Nagar was not the only area struck by tragedy. Hundreds of others were killed in a series of weather-related incidents across Maharashtra, the state where Bombay is located.

Some 15 million people live in Bombay, India's financial capital. While it is often associated with big business and India's homegrown "Bollywood" film industry, it is also has an estimated slum population of six million - people unable to afford the city's high land prices.

Javad Shekhar is the only one of 14-year-old Mohammed Azad's relatives to survive the landslide. He says he's not angry about the tragedy, at least, not really.

"It's nature's fault, but if we didn't have to live here, my family would have survived," he said.