MUMBAI, July 28: Floods, landslides and building collapses caused by India’s heaviest-ever recorded rainfall have killed at least 786 people and brought the financial capital Mumbai to a near-standstill, according to police. Weather officials predicted more heavy rain for the city of 15 million, where schools, banks and stock markets were closed and public transport was barely operating.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who toured the rain-ravaged areas in a helicopter on Thursday, said he was ‘deeply pained by this human tragedy’ and announced emergency aid totalling seven billion rupees for the Maharashtra state government.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimated damage in Maharashtra at 10 billion rupees. B. M. Kulkarni, who heads Maharashtra state’s police emergency control room, told AFP that 273 people had died in Mumbai and at least 513 in other parts of the state.

He said the death toll rose sharply after more than 160 deaths by drowning were reported in Mumbai. Aerial pictures of Mumbai showed much of the city marooned in debris-laden water. Long queues of vehicles were stranded on highways.

However, the main airport reopened early afternoon after being closed since Tuesday due to waterlogged runways. Aside from allowing the resumption of commercial flights, the reopening had allowed the air force to start flying in relief materials.

Suburban trains — the lifeline of the city — were also limping back to normal, a railway official said, but inter-city lines had yet to be restored. Heavy casualties occurred in a remote village in Raighad district of the rain-lashed state, where at least 100 people from 20 families were feared killed by a landslide.

Tons of mud flattened houses in Jui village, 170km south of Mumbai, on Monday but news of the tragedy reached authorities only three days later.

Soldiers had reached the village of rice farmers and were supervising rescue and relief operations but ‘it is difficult to remove the debris without machines,’ said an officer.

“Even then it would take days ... and the chance of rescuing people is remote,” an army official told. Authorities were air-dropping food and water to stranded residents of Mumbai and Raighad.

The city’s weather bureau said Mumbai received 944.2 millimetres of rainfall in 24 hours ending Wednesday morning, the most rainfall ever recorded in a single day in India and beating a record which has stood since July 1910. Power supplies, which had been cut as a precaution as the rains flooded streets waist-high, were restored to some parts of the city.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil told parliament on Wednesday that about 76,000 animals had been killed and 1.72 million acres of land and 283,000 houses damaged. He said 5.6 million people in 131 districts and 16,000 villages had been affected by the floods.

Premier Singh said he would pursue the possibility of setting up flood forecasting systems for major Indian cities. “When I went to Washington recently, I met scientists and technical experts who showed us how forecasting techniques helped in disaster management,” he said after his tour of the state. —-AFP

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