Sunday, 26 September, 2021
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Floods, Landslides Batter Maharashtra

Death toll hits 138 as search for survivors continues

MUMBAI: At least 138 people are dead, 89 injured and several missing after torrential rain over the past few days led to floods and landslides in coastal districts of Maharashtra, destroying thousands of buildings and roads, leaving entire villages underwater and prompting a desperate search for survivors, as well as a massive rescue and relief op that included the evacuation of nearly 90,000, Indian media reported.

At this point - with damage and fatality reports still being collected - the number of dead and missing are uncertain; the state government has said 76 are dead and 30 missing, while Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar said 138 are dead and 59 missing.

Raigad, Ratnagiri, Palghar, Thane, Sindhudurg, Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara districts have been worst affected, with bad weather making it difficult for rescue workers to reach some towns and villages, even via helicopters. Access has been relatively easier floodwaters receded.

89,333 people have been evacuated so far, including 40,882 from Kolhapur and 42,573 from Sangli, where visuals from news agency ANI showed the Tandulwadi and Kanegaon villages submerged.

47 deaths have been reported from Raigad district alone, where a landslide that demolished dozens of houses in Taliye village on Thursday claimed 37 lives. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar told news agency PTI the village was not in an area considered prone to landslides.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has promised the villagers help in relocating and rebuilding their homes and lives. The state has announced Rs. 5 lakh compensation to the families of those killed and said it will foot the bill for treatment of those injured.

Initial reports also indicate 11 deaths in Ratnagiri district, six in Satara and five from Kolhapur, where the Panchganga river is still flowing at least a dozen feet above the danger level. Four people died in suburban areas around Mumbai, with other deaths in Sindhudurg and Pune.

In Raigad, which bore the brunt of the rains and floods, 53 are still missing.

Horrific stories have emerged from survivors, including one by Mujaffar Khan from Mahad, who told PTI: “... there is a thick layer of mud... it is not just soil, there are dead animals in it... like rats.”

In Ratnagiri’s Chiplun town - another of those completely flooded - rescuers raced to save people from a COVID-19 hospital cut off from aid. Other visuals from the town show a terrifying image - a few people on the roof of a building trying to pull up a woman with rope.

Apart from 30 teams from the national and state disaster response agencies, the Army, the Navy, the Coast Guard and other groups have been mobilised to rescue thousands of stranded people, co-ordinate evacuations and provide food, clothing, medicines and shelter for displaced people. Of concern during this mammoth operation is ensuring Covid protocols are followed, particularly since Maharashtra is the state worst affected by the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Modi, who said he was “anguished by the loss of lives”, and President Kovind have been in touch with the Maharashtra government and Governor BS Koshyari respectively, to offer all possible aid and assistance.

The weather department has issued a red alert for six districts already affected by the deluge, forecasting “extremely heavy” rainfall and recommending preventive measures.

The catastrophic floods, which also affected large parts of Mumbai and its suburbs last week, killing at least 29 people, have been described by experts as an indication of climate change.

Similarly terrible reports have come in from Goa, where one person died and around 1,000 houses were destroyed, and Karnataka.

Climate change is making India’s monsoons stronger, according to a Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research report published in April that forecast dire consequences for food, farming and the economy affecting nearly a fifth of the world’s population.