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Over 30 dead as heavy rain batters Mumbai

The island city received 235mm of rain in four hours (between 12am and 4am) on Sunday, according to weather officials, hours after a similar extreme weather event resulted in the season’s highest daily rainfall (253mm) on Friday.
By Mehul R Thakkar, Prayag Arora-Desai, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 19, 2021 01:32 AM IST
Rescue workers dig through debris to find survivors in Chembur in Mumbai on Sunday. (Satish Bate/HT)

Torrential rain from a thunderstorm, described by meteorologists as “monstrous”, hammered Mumbai in the early hours on Sunday, flooding low-lying areas, triggering landslides, house collapses and electrocutions that resulted in the deaths of at least 31 people, officials said.

The island city received 235mm of rain in four hours (between 12am and 4am) on Sunday, according to weather officials, hours after a similar extreme weather event resulted in the season’s highest daily rainfall (253mm) on Friday.

The suddenness and intensity of Sunday morning’s downpour made it one of the most intense rain spells since the 2005 cloudburst, when a record 944mm downpour was recorded in the country’s financial capital in a single day.

The heavy rain, which environment minister Aaditya Thackeray labelled as a “mini cloudburst”, triggered two landslides — the first in east Mumbai’s Chembur where 19 people were killed, and the second in the suburb of Vikhroli, where at least 10 people lost their lives.

In both instances, landslides crushed the houses with peoplesleeping inside. Rescuers were seen trying to dig through the debris using their hands in an attempt to find survivors, and officials said they feared more people may still be trapped. A 16-year-old boy was killed in a house collapse in the city’s Bhandup suburb, while one man was electrocuted to death in Andheri West, officials said.

The first landslide was reported around 1am in the New Bharat Nagar area of Chembur, where a wall collapsed on several shanties. Around five houses, where people were sleeping, were the ones worst effected and a total of 19 people were killed, including four minors. Five people were reported wounded in the incident.

Around 3am, another landslide was reported in the Surya Nagar area of Vikhroli, where seven-to-eight houses were crushed, resulting in the death of at least 10 people, officials said.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) termed both the landslides as “natural calamities”, and said that the houses were “illegally built” on government land and that it had already appealed to citizens to vacate.

Officials from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), municipal workers, fire brigade and police personnel were engaged in rescue operations at the collapse sites.

At around 5am, a house collapse in Bhandup resulted in the death of a 16-year-old, officials said.

Also at Bhandup, rainwater inundated a water purification complex, disrupting supply “in most of the parts of Mumbai”, civic authorities said. “Efforts are being taken to restore Mumbai’s water supply by restarting the water purification system in the complex... After supply is restored, the administration appeals Mumbaikars to boil water before drinking,” BMC said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.

Later on Sunday morning, 26-year-old man was reportedly electrocuted to his death in a sweet shop at Andheri West.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and announced a compensation of 2 lakh to the families of those who died. State chief minister Uddhav Thackeray also announced a compensation of 5 lakh for those who lost their family members on Sunday.

The BJP on the other hand said blamed the alleged “mismanagement and corruption” in the BMC. Vinod Mishra, BJP corporator and party leader in the BMC said, “The BMC should stop playing with lives of citizens and every year we have this situation where people die during monsoon. The BMC should ensure that there are no such incidents during heavy rainfall.”

State environment minister Aadtiya Thackeray labelled the event as a “mini cloudburst,” though the India Meteorological Department (IMD) did not term it as one. Experts said it was a thunderstorm event, but one whose impact is comparable to a cloudburst – which is described by IMD as an event where 100mm rain falls in a span of an hour over a 20-30sqkm region.

“We have been talking about climate change and it is happening because since a few years we have been witnessing that in a few hours, excess rainfall is reported, which makes it even more for the administration to handle,” he said.

Meteorologists said in Sunday’s thunderstorm, the cloud cover seems to have started forming late Saturday over Raigad district, where the hilly topography would have driven the formation of thunder clouds. The cloud cover – which touched a height of 18km (twice the size of Mt Everest) – then moved from the southeast to the northwest of Mumbai.

“The cloud-top height is a good indicator of how intense a storm will be. Furthermore, the vertical wind shear is significant, which is prolonging the lifespan of thunderstorms,” Akshay Deoras, independent meteorologist and PhD researcher at the University of Reading, England. “Such thunderstorms are definitely uncommon for Mumbai or the west coast during an active phase of the monsoon, and in a month like July. The cloud top height of this monster thunderstorm is definitely comparable to the one that produced rains on 26 July 2005.”

Despite the scale of the downpour, civic authorities said they received no warning of extreme weather from the IMD. “Our models did not see such an intense event, but an impact based forecast was put out at 1am warning people,” said Dr Jayanta Sarkar, head of the IMD’s regional meteorological centre in Mumbai.

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