Frantic search for survivors as India’s flood death toll tops 100

Heavy rains in western Maharashtra state triggered landslides and flooding, killing more than 100 people and causing widespread destruction.

Rescue workers evacuate people from a flooded area in Kolhapur [Abhijeet Gurjar/Reuters]
Rescue workers evacuate people from a flooded area in Kolhapur [Abhijeet Gurjar/Reuters]

Rescuers in India have combed through mud and debris in a frantic search for survivors as the death toll from heavy monsoon rains climbed to 115, with nearly 150,000 others evacuated.

Torrential downpours have lashed India’s western coast in recent days, leaving dozens missing near the financial capital Mumbai and causing the worst floods in decades in the resort state of Goa.

“Torrential rainfall in various parts of the state often coinciding with high tides and also discharge from dams led to various regions … getting inundated thereby resulting in floods across multiple districts,” the Maharashtra state said in a statement.

In hard-hit Raigad, south of Mumbai, where landslides buried dozens of houses, at least 47 people were killed and 53 others were feared trapped under layers of mud.

The downpour caused the Savitri river to burst its banks, leaving the town of Mahad completely inaccessible by road, and prompting terrified residents to climb onto rooftops and upper floors to escape swelling waters.

A combined rescue operation involving the army, navy and air force was under way to evacuate those stranded by the flooding. Their operations, though, were hampered by high water levels and landslides blocking roads, including the main highway between Mumbai and Goa.

Nearly 90,000 people have been evacuated in Maharashtra so far.

Water levels rose to nearly six metres (20 feet) on Thursday in areas of Chiplun, a city 250km (160 miles) from Mumbai, following 24 hours of uninterrupted rain that caused the Vashishti River to overflow, submerging roads and homes.

Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said emergency workers were struggling to reach cut-off neighbourhoods in Chiplun because of damage to roads and bridges there.

“We will do whatever it takes to save lives and property,” he told reporters. “This disaster has hit the entire state from Nagpur in the east to Mahabaleshwar in the west. The rains have been unprecedented and we’re facing an unexpected emergency.”

The navy deployed seven rescue teams equipped with rubber boats, life jackets and lifebuoys to the affected areas, along with specialist divers and a helicopter to airlift marooned residents.

India’s meteorological department has issued red alerts for several regions in the state, indicating that heavy rainfall will continue for the next few days.

Roxy Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said the latest flooding was “unprecedented, but not unexpected”.

“We already see a threefold rise in widespread extreme rains that cause floods across India,” he tweeted.

Goa’s floods were its worst in decades, according to its chief minister Pramod Sawant, who said the monsoons had caused “widespread damage” but no casualties.

“People have lost virtually everything,” said Goa’s Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, pointing out that the state, which borders Maharashtra, had not seen such heavy rains in half a century.

He said rising waters had entered homes, damaging more than 1,000 houses.

Flooding and landslides are common during India’s monsoon season between June and September, which also often sees poorly constructed buildings and walls buckling after days of non-stop rain.

Four people died before dawn on Friday when a building collapsed in a poor Mumbai neighbourhood, authorities said.

The incident came less than a week after at least 34 people lost their lives when several homes were crushed by a collapsed wall and a landslide in the city.

Climate change is making India’s monsoons stronger, according to a report from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) published in April.

The report warned of potentially severe consequences for food, farming and the economy affecting nearly a fifth of the world’s population.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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