07/30/2005, 00.00
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India floods leave at least 850 dead

PIME missionary in Mumbai: "For days without drinking water, electricity or outside contacts: we do not know how they will help us and how to help". The Church of Our Lady in Veilankanni is safe.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The death toll of days of floods in the western Indian state of Maharastra and its capital Mumbai has risen to at least 850.

According to reports by local authorities, this number is provisional, because it refers only to bodies recovered so far from landslides. Fr Carlo Torrioni, PIME missionary in the Indian metropolis, told of the situation after days of flooding after heavy monsoon rains: "We have had a metre and a half of water in our office of Lok Seva Sangam. All the papers, documents, wooden furniture, can be thrown out! I don't know what has happened to the computers, because we have not had electricity or drinking water for three days now."

Fr Torrioni is responsible for social services, among them care of lepers in two missionary centres: one in the quarter of Sion, just outside the leading economic zone of Mumbai and the other around 40km away from the city. "Here in the city, we are situated in a very low-lying zone at sea level, or nearly there. Further down, they have constructed buildings higher than ours, but here, thanks to the waters, the ground floor has been out of use for three days, with water reaching our necks. We managed to go into our office only today, but all apartments at ground level have been destroyed. We are all in vests working! Yesterday we spent the whole day removing mud."

Although at the heart of the residential centre, they have been entirely isolated. "On Tuesday night," said the missionary, "three of our friends were scheduled to arrive by plane. They were rerouted to New Delhi and they arrived in Mumbai only last night, as soon as the airport started functioning again." This complete isolation has not allowed them to take stock of the situation to coordinate relief supplies. "I don't even know how others members of the Church are administering relief," said Fr Torrioni. "In these days I have never managed to read the newspapers nor to listen to the radio or watch television."

As Fr Torrioni said, even organisation of aid delivery is complicated. "We are shoveling mud and water from our office and for now, it is impossible to do anything else. We will need a couple of weeks to make it usable again, and a few months to get everything in place, furniture and lost documents. I received a phone call from the Church of Our Lady in Veilankanni, our parish: the building was not flooded, but the houses lower down were."

In recent days, the missionary was in Swarga Dwar, at another PIME centre around 40km from the city. "We had torrential rains there," he said, "but houses were not flooded; however many nearby villages were swept away." According to the missionary, the news of hundreds even thousands of dead is realistic: "Some settlements have been completely destroyed. Many villages on the road of Goa have been wiped out. Even the highway is full of mud and garbage, cars stalled, abandoned by their owners who tried to seek shelter or to go home on foot." "Two days ago, we tried to return to the city but we did not manage to do so until this morning. I look especially after lepers, luckily, we did not have any losses among them."

Now it continues to rain at intervals, as is the norm at this time of the year in India. "The situation is already getting back to normal," said Fr Torriani, "but it will take weeks…"

People are making do as they can: "Yesterday, when we tried to go back, we saw people giving out water and biscuits. We saw a river of people along the highway, because there was hardly any means of transport and the few private vehicles were full of men, women and children escaping from Mumbai. Even we gave six people a lift."

The army is distributing relief supplies but the missionary said it was impossible to take stock of the aid situation: "Although we are in the city, we are cut off!" (AP)

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