It's raining trouble in Mumbai

Torrential rains batter the city; trains halted, flights diverted, buses off roads, and schools, courts shut.


Nithin Belle

Published: Sun 21 Jun 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:58 PM

Mumbai: The tottering civic infrastructure in India’s financial and commercial capital collapsed in the face of heavy rains on Friday, crippling the metropolis of 15 million-plus people.

Torrential rains have been lashing Mumbai and the surrounding region since Thursday night. The metropolis recorded about 300mm of rainfall during the 24-hour period ending Friday. Despite the tall claims of the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the railways, of having cleared storm-water drains, low-lying areas were flooded with water, crippling the transport network.

Suburban services on all three corridors — the Western, Central and Harbour — were suspended for several hours during the morning peak hours because of flooding of tracks in many areas. Thousands of commuters were stranded at many stations in the morning and many walked through knee-deep water along the railway tracks.

While services were slowly being resumed in the evening, they had to be halted because of continuing showers. The authorities were hopeful that normalcy would be restored by late night.

Scores of long-distance trains to and from Mumbai were also stranded between stations and passengers had to spend more than half a day waiting for the trains to move.

Highways and major arteries, both in the city and the suburbs, were also flooded with rainwater, and even buses found it difficult to navigate. Many office-goers were caught in traffic jams for hours at a stretch.

Several domestic and international flights were also delayed because of the heavy rains. Many departing passengers couldn’t reach the airport in time and those who landed in Mumbai found it difficult to get transport to reach their homes, offices or hotels.

Both the civic body and the railways appealed to citizens not to venture out unless it was an emergency. Most private and government offices were shut; even the Bombay high court had to declare a holiday for all courts. Schools and colleges were also shut and many shops also did not open their shutters. The BMC and the railways deployed nearly 250 portable pumps to low-lying areas to drain out the water, but they were ineffective in the face of high tides. With the high tide level reaching a height of 4.6 m, pumps are ineffective as the rainwater cannot be pumped into the sea.

The civic body and the railways spend millions of rupees in cleaning up storm-water drains before the onset of the south-west monsoon. But most of the drains are clogged with unchecked, year-round dumping of debris and garbage. Many residents living along both sides of the suburban railway lines also dump garbage on to the tracks. This is evident in places such as Masjid — where commercial buildings are adjacent to the railway tracks — Wadala, Chunabati, King’s Circle, Kurla, Govandi, Mankhurd (all these are on the Harbour Branch) and even along stations such as Dadar, Matunga, Mahim, Jogeshwari and Goregaon along the Western Railway corridor.

Unplanned and haphazard growth in Mumbai — both in the city and the suburbs — also results in new developments and re-development occurring in different areas. But the drains, built more than a century ago, are unable to take the load and crumble. The heavy downpour from Thursday night saw more than a dozen low-lying localities getting submerged under water. They included places such as Byculla, Parel, Dadar, Sion, Dharavi, Kurla, Santa Cruz (especially Milan subway), Andheri, Jogeshwari and Goregaon.

While Mumbai receives between 2,000mm and 2,500mm of rainfall during the four-month rainy season from June to September, the city comes to a virtual standstill if it rains more than 150mm in a 24-hour span. Scores of new flyovers have come up in Mumbai in recent years, but the rainwater rushes down and floods the roads below.

The heavy rains saw many areas reporting power breakdowns. Telecommunication services were also impacted in some areas, and citizens couldn’t access the net.

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis visited the disaster management control room to monitor the situation.

He advised residents not to go near the coastline or the beaches.

“Almost four metres high tide is expected today (Friday)... Appealing everyone to avoid going near the sea. Please avoid going out of homes... Be safe!” Fadnavis tweeted soon after, terming it as a major challenge before the authorities. Huge waves lashed the coast along Marine Drive and near the Gateway of India, even flooding the roads.

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