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Mumbai rains: A déjà vu moment 12 years on, residents recall dark day of 26/7

Authorities say the situation is much better than 2005 when Mumbai drowned, killing more than 1000 people.

mumbai Updated: Aug 30, 2017 13:16 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai weather,Mumbai rains,High tide in Mumbai
A file photo shows the deluge in Mumbai on July 26, 2005, when Mumbai drowned in 944mm of rain.(Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)

It was déjà vu for many Mumbaiites on Tuesday. The downpour that brought the city to its knees was reminiscent of the heavy deluge on July 26, 2005 when a cloudburst had brought the megapolis to a complete standstill for two days.

Between 8.30am and 8.30pm on Tuesday, Mumbai recorded 315.8mm of rain. On July 26, 2005, when the city drowned, killing more than 1,000 people, 944mm rain fell over a period of 24 hours.

On social media, Mumbaikars drew parallels, recalling the utter mayhem that the city experienced on that dark day.

Johnny Joseph, the then municipal commissioner, said the situation was much better this year than what it was in 2005, as it was “unprecedented” back then. “We had to rescue 2.20 lakh people over a span of five hours without being alerted about the intensity of rains,” said Joseph. “The 2005 deluge helped the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have a strategy that included widening rivers, developing more outfalls for the pipelines, having more pumping stations.”

Mumbai is no stranger to calamities. It suffers almost every other year, when there is a downpour. The first such recorded crisis was in 1974 with 200mm rain, said Joseph, adding that the drainage system in the city is 125 years old and it cannot be changed overnight.

On July 26, 2005, a torrential downpour had brought the city to a grinding halt and claimed over a 1,000 lives. The city was flooded, with residents wading in chest-high water. Airports were shut for 30 hours, trains were cancelled, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway was shut down, mobile networks were hit. Stranded residents sought shelter in colleges, offices and even in the homes of strangers.

Images from 26/7, carried in the Hindustan Times edition on July 28, show the extent of the disaster. Cars completely submerged in water, the elderly being carried on shoulders, the breakdown of public transport, chaos at railway stations.

Hindustan Times’ special edition dated July 28, 2005, which chronicled the submerged city on 26/7. ( HT Archives )

On Tuesday again, Mumbai’s sewer lines were overwhelmed. “The sewer lines in the city can manage a maximum of 70mm water from rain and high tide. However, if it increases beyond that, it is bound to cause water logging,” said YB Sontakke, joint director, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). “The BMC alone cannot be held responsible. The condition has resulted due to a concoction of environmental issues such as tree felling and air pollution that has led to a shift in weather patterns and examples are these sudden downpours.”

Environmentalists said while the city received half the amount of rain recorded on July 26, 2005, the chaos was far more on Tuesday. “This is a result of construction of walls along the four rivers (Mithi, Dahisar, Poinsur and Oshiwara), reclamation of salt pans, and destruction of mangroves that has not allowed excess water from the downpour and high tide to evenly spread across our sewage lines,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti. “We have left no space in the city to allow the flow of this water. Concrete is blocking most of it from flowing off. This was not the case in 2005. It was extremely heavy rain over three days that had caused the trouble then.”

Hindustan Times’ special edition dated July 28, 2005. ( HT Archives )

Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation, agrees. “While the 2005 deluge was unprecedented and it was much more catastrophic than what happened on Tuesday, the heavy rain still brought the city to a virtual breakdown. Over the past few years, we have been telling the state not to reclaim open spaces, mangroves, salt pans and wetlands but since they do not listen, the result is a flooded Mumbai,” said Pimenta.

BMC officials said Tuesday’s flooding was not comparable to what happened in 2005. “We are trying to tackle the situation to the best of our capabilities by communicating with officials from the Centre, state and local ward offices. With the help of pumping stations, we have cleared a lot of water from water logged areas, which was not the case in 2005. Even 10 teams from the National Disaster Response Force are in the city for any untoward incidents,” said a senior civic official.

Hindustan Times’ special edition dated July 28, 2005. ( HT Archives )

Experts said the sewage lines need to be expanded and repaired. “The fundamental problem persists that the city’s sewage lines cannot hold more than 50mm of rain over 12 hours. The need of the hour is to focus on building a strategy that will help both old Mumbai and the suburbs release rainwater and high tide water faster,” said Joseph. “There needs to be a long standing plan that might be expensive but takes care of such waterlogging much faster. The BMC is working on it and hopefully circumstances will be even smoother in coming years.”

First Published: Aug 30, 2017 10:36 IST