07/29/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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India: 700 dead feared for heavy floods

Many people killed by the crowd or drowned in cars, houses and under the mud.

Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least 18 people, including seven children, were killed in the rain-ravaged Indian city of Mumbai when rumours - that turned out to be unfounded - that a lake had burst its banks triggered a slum stampede. The stampede pushed the death toll from two days of monsoon flooding and landslides in the country's financial hub and the surrounding western state to nearly 700 people. At least 7 people were injured in the stampede.

People in a crowded slum in the north of the city of 15 million rushed out of their homes in pitch darkness late o Thursday, hearing rumours of floods. "People were already on the edge after heavy rains in the last few days and rumours had been swirling around," a police official said. "There were rumours of a lake bursting its banks and a tsunami that led to the stampede." Police used loudspeakers to dispel rumours and calm the panicky residents. "We didn't quite understand what was going on but everyone was rushing out of their houses and we also followed them," one young mother told Indian television. "It was totally dark outside and in all the commotion a lot of people, especially women and children, got pushed down and trampled." Another woman said she fell as the crowd tried to rush out of the narrow lanes of the low-lying slum to higher ground. "Everyone was shouting and screaming that the sea-water is coming or that a dam had burst."

In other parts of the city, roads were clearing after the floodwaters subsided and authorities appealed to people to retrieve the cars they had abandoned when flooding brought the city to a standstill on Tuesday. Trains were running, albeit with delays, and Mumbai's airport had started operating normally after being closed for two days. Workers who had finally made it home on Thursday, after one or two nights in hotels, on office floors or on the street, began returning to work, and trading on financial markets resumed.

Relief coordinators put the city's death toll at about 370, over half the total for the whole of the state of Maharashtra. Rescuers were still trying to recover the bodies of an estimated 100 people buried under an avalanche of mud in the village of Juigaon, 150 km south of Mumbai. A landslide at a slum near the Mumbai suburb of Andheri killed at least 56 people, and efforts continued to retrieve dozens more bodies believed to be buried in the mud. Newspapers reported that about 16 people, including three teenage college students, had died in their cars, trapped by rising water levels which jammed the doors.

The chaos was a brutal reminder of Mumbai's rickety infrastructure, despite a hugely ambitious billion plan to turn it into the next Shanghai. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visiting Mumbai on yesterday to announce a 115 million dollars aid package for relief work, said the city's infrastructure needed modernising to be fit enough for the country's commercial capital.

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