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Killed by a rumour

By A Ganesh Nadar in Mumbai
Last updated on: July 29, 2005 22:07 IST
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Saint Thiruvalluvar chowk.

You see the name of the Tamil saint and philosopher and you know you are in an area with a sizeable Tamil population.

The morning after the tragedy last night, the topic of discussion at the square was all that went wrong yesterday. The sequence of events was this:

At approximately 8 pm last night, water was being pumped out from Sahakari Bhandar, the grocery store, a short distance away. While the water was being expelled onto the road, people wondered why there was such a heavy flow when it hadn't rained through the day. Just then someone said 'Tsunami' and all hell broke lose.

Nehru Nagar has a population of close to 40,000 people. Like all slums this too is crowded beyond human imagination. But because the houses here are made of concrete, the deluge on Tuesday did not destroy a single house. No one here got washed away, only one man died -- people allege because he had drunk too much.

Stampede toll rises to 18, 17 held for spreading rumours

And unlike what had been reported on television, there was power supply in Nehru Nagar. Locals said that power had been restored by Wednesday.

On hearing about the 'tsunami', people panicked and started running towards the main Swami Vivekanand road. The path leading to the main road is about 10 feet wide. As women ran out with children in hand, some tripped and fell and others just ran over them. Some stopped to lend a hand to the fallen but it wasn't enough to stop the mad stampede.

Meanwhile, a few young men got on their bikes and rushed towards the sea. On seeing that nothing was wrong, they came back and informed the people that all was well. About 30 young men stood in the path in front of the mad mob and blocked their path. The surging mob collided with this wall of men and fell.

Those that fell were trampled to death. They were mostly children and women.

Eighteen people died on the spot.

Almost twelve hours later, a woman was still writhing in pain in Nehru Nagar. She had fallen down and had been trampled last night. She was in excruciating pain through the night and people were now taking her to hospital.

In a house on the first floor, a deceased's relatives were crying in anguish. They could not come to terms with the fact that a young girl who had just been married last month had died. Her parents and husband had gone to the neighbouring Cooper hospital to claim the body. The rest were beating their breasts.

Said young Shekhar Devendra: "I have two young children. I tried to explain to my wife that there was no tsunami. She wouldn't listen. She wanted to run. So I lifted both my children onto my shoulders, held my wife's hand tight and ran out into that street. I did not run on the main road. It was too crowded. We were saved as no one else came into that side of the street."

Another resident Venkatesh Nagaraj related: "Mumbai has never known a tsunami but we have all seen its effect on television, as it is there was so much rain which had shaken our self confidence. This was the last straw."

Some people were so shaken by last night's events that they had started packing up. Mostly, north Indians, they said they were going back to their village and would return after a month. Even the Tamilians felt the same way, " We should go back to our village for a while, all bad things are happening here."

A tailor said last night one could have picked up enough slippers on this street to load a lorry. Even now a lone slipper could be seen on the gloomy street.

Death toll in Maharashtra reaches 696

On Tuesday when the rains paralysed the city, few traffic constables could be spotted on the roads while the police were conspicuous by their absence. Today in Nehru Nagar, there were cops everywhere. Many were seated on chairs and benches provided by the locals, chewing paan, drinking tea, smoking.

Five minutes down the road, at Cooper hospital, the next of kin were waiting for the bodies after the post-mortem. Quite different from the procedure adopted at Rajawadi hospital which housed the dead in the Saki Naka landslide. There the police said the bodies could be claimed almost immediately.

Local Nationalist Congress Party leader Ganesh Ramaswamy had a list of 17 names that had died. Men, women and seven children who survived the deluge two nights ago but could not make it through a rumour.

The list of deceased:

1. Kalima Ravi Devendra
2. Savita Ramaswamy
3. Muthu Mariappan Devendra
4. Guruswamy Gounder
5. Laxmi Guruswamy Gounder
6. Satyavel Athimalai Devendra
7. Sonali
8. Rajamma Subramaniam Pillai
9. Neeraj Chedi Gupta
10. Soni Santosh
11. Sonal Suritas
12. Tejas
13. Krishnappa Mariappan
14. Raju Murugesh Devendra
15. Ram Bharose Jha
16. Raj Kundali Jayshree Singh
17. Dinesh Gopal Yadav

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

Terrible Tuesday: Mumbai copes with a calamity

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A Ganesh Nadar in Mumbai