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Record-breaking rains in Maharashtra kill 200 people

By By Ramola Talwar Badam in Mumbai
July 28, 2005 10:54 IST
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Rescuers searched with bare hands on Thursday for survivors buried under debris and rushed aid to villages cut off by record-breaking rains that paralysed Mumbai and Maharashtra, leaving more than 200 dead.

At least 83 people died in Mumbai after being crushed by falling walls, trapped in cars or electrocuted when the most intense rains on record swept through the city on Tuesday and Wednesday. Phone networks collapsed, highways were blocked and the city's airports, among the nation's busiest, were closed.

In the northern suburb of Saki Naka, relief workers and survivors sifted through rubble on Thursday after a small hill crashed on a group of huts, leaving more than 45 people dead.

"I was scared the hill would fall. I kept telling my cousin, 'lets leave'," sobbed Aslam Khan. "But he wouldn't listen. Now it's too late."

Officials said parts of Mumbai had been hit by up to 94.4 cm of rain on Tuesday, the highest one-day total in India's history. Much of it came over a few evening hours. Photos showed the sprawling city covered with water, with cars choking almost every main road.

On Thursday, workers repaired communication networks that had collapsed across the state and towed away abandoned cars and buses to clear the city's gridlocked highways. Train services had resumed and flights were to begin later in the day.

Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil told AP that 200 bodies had been recovered in Maharashtra state, and more deaths were feared.

Hundreds of Mumbai residents began returning to their homes early on Thursday in the worst-affected parts of the city's suburbs after spending two nights stranded in offices, buses, cars or trains.

State police officials said rescue teams had begun distributing food packets and water to people marooned in villages cut off by flood waters. They were also recovering bodies floating in the murky swirling water.

Every year, Mumbai comes to a halt for a day or two due to heavy rains, which pound the country between June and September and often leave hundreds dead across India. But this week's downpours left the city paralysed.

"Most places in India don't receive this kind of rainfall in a year. This is the highest ever recorded in India's history," R V Sharma, director of the Meteorological Department in Mumbai, told AP.

India's previous heaviest rainfall, recorded in the northeastern town of Cherrapunji -- one of the rainiest places on earth -- was 83.82 cm on July 12, 1910, Sharma said.


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By Ramola Talwar Badam in Mumbai
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