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Officials on the backfoot again as heavy rains bring Mumbai to halt; no respite for next 48 hours

Torrential rain submerged large parts of India’s financial capital on Friday and brought local train services to a grinding halt, leaving thousands of commuters stranded across the city as traffic moved sluggishly on waterlogged roads.

mumbai Updated: Jun 20, 2015 07:16 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times

Torrential rain submerged large parts of India’s financial capital Mumbai on Friday and brought local train services to a grinding halt, leaving thousands of commuters stranded across the city as traffic moved sluggishly on waterlogged roads.

Two persons died of electrocution in rain-related accidents.

Schools, courts and offices were forced shut by the downpour that began on Thursday as the municipal corporation advised people to stay indoors and travel only in case of emergencies, while the weather office predicted no respite for the next 48 hours.

“Indian Navy in touch with BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation), Disaster Management Cell and other civic authorities. Sea King Heptrs (helicopters) standing by at Colaba,” tweeted union defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar.

Video: Heavy rains bring Mumbai to standstill, trains and flights disrupted; schools and courts shut

The monsoon fury comes about a month before Mumbai marks the tenth anniversary of the week when a combination of incessant rain, a freak storm and high tide inundated the city, killing hundreds of people and destroying property worth crores.

“There are three particular reasons due to which such weather conditions have prevailed,” said KS Hosalikar from the India Meteorological Department (IMD). “The first being the current offshore trough is very strong, bringing in such dense clouds. There is an upper-air circulation taking place close to the Gujarat coast and there is also a system over the Bay of Bengal, resulting in extremely heavy rainfall over the whole state of Maharashtra.”

The situation was slightly better this time around, although not because authorities were better prepared, but as the rain was comparatively less – 283.4mm in the suburbs and 208.8mm in the island city. It was still the highest rainfall the city has received in 24 hours (between 8.30am on Thursday and 8.30am on Friday) in June in a decade.

According to an official of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) disaster management unit, a five-year-old boy and a 60-year-old woman died of electrocution in Wadala in central Mumbai.

Most city schools stayed shut on Friday on account of heavy rains. Schools can declare holiday on Saturday if heavy rains continue, state education minister, Vinod Tawde said.

Residents lashed out at the administration, questioning its claims of rain readiness after hundreds of crores were spent on water pumping stations and improving infrastructure.

“Mumbai Rains, not a shock to anyone around the world since the Big Bang except the #BMC...Who act like it’s the 1st time it pours every year,” tweeted actor Ashwin Mushran.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis reached the civic body’s disaster management room to take stock of the situation and reportedly asked officials to provide two-hourly updates.

Seasonal rains began in the city after the southwest monsoon hit India’s western coast last week.

The three suburban rail networks, considered the city’s lifeline, were badly affected with dozens of services suspended, as hundreds of commuters remained stuck for hours at train stations.

“I went back home from Andheri station, changed into different clothes and took out my bicycle,” said 30-year-old bank employee Kunal Sutar.

Flooded roads in low-lying areas disrupted vehicular movement, while authorities deployed more than 2,700 traffic police personnel amid chaotic scenes at parts like Matunga, Kurla, Parel and Dadar with trees collapsing and vehicles breaking down.

“Many of our men, including officers, are out since 7am. Traffic policemen have also been deployed on the city’s beaches taking note of the high-tide warning,” said assistant inspector Kanhaiya Shinde.

Wet airstrips, inconsistent runway visibility and subsequent bunching up of flight schedules slowed air traffic movement in and out of the Mumbai airport. While delays were negligible until the morning peak hour of 10 am, incessant rains made threw the flights out of schedule by the end of the day.

By afternoon about a dozen flights on an average were holding up above the city airfield jostling for space to land. As a result a flight each operated by Indigo Airlines, Jet Airways and GoAir had to be sent to Ahmedabad and Baroda as they were running low on fuel to wait for their turn to land, added airport officials.

Four more city-bound flights were asked to abort touchdown at the last minute, as they runway were adequately prepared for landing, added officials.

“Almost all flights were delayed. The average delay was about 45 minutes,” said a Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson.

The Juhu aerodrome— the country’s busiest airfield for private planes and helicopter operations— turned into a lake.

“This is a regular feature at Juhu airport, except that this time the flooding has taken place right at the beginning of the monsoon season. We really don’t know how worse it's going to be in July and August – the peak period of monsoon,” said Captain Uday Gelli, western region head of the Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), an industry think tank.

Adding to residents’ woes, parts of the city plunged into darkness after power supplier Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) shut down six substations as a precautionary measure.

“If we operate the transformers in such a condition, the chances of them getting damaged are high, which may result in complete disruption of power supply,” BEST deputy PRO Manoj Varade told PTI.

The weather office noted that the rainfall pattern fell under the "extreme" category for Mumbai, Konkan areas and Goa while isolated spells of heavy downpour will continue to lash the city for two more days.

(With agency inputs)

Read: BMC not ready for rains: Mumbaikars post complaints on Twitter

In pics: Drenched, derailed and disrupted

Mumbai records highest 24-hour rainfall in June in a decade

Local trains halted, flights diverted, buses off roads

First Published: Jun 19, 2015 08:55 IST