BOMBAY, India – Hundreds of angry demonstrators blocked traffic for hours Saturday to demand restoration of drinking water and electricity and clearing of rotting animal carcasses after this week’s monsoon rains in western India. Officials said the death toll could reach 1,000.
Rescuers found more than 100 bodies in the debris of collapsed homes Saturday, bringing the official death toll from the devastating floods in Bombay and the surrounding Maharashtra state to 853. They fear more bodies are buried in remote areas, and the death toll could increase by 100 to 150, said Chief Secretary Prem Kumar, the state’s top bureaucrat.
Kumar said rescue work was mostly over and officials were focussing on relief.
Newspapers warned of the threat of waterborne diseases, and hospitals and health centers geared up to distribute free medicines to check any outbreak.
Rain showers began intermittently hitting Bombay and its outlying areas again Saturday, though with far less force than earlier in the week.
Hundreds of residents in five Bombay districts raised anti-government slogans and blocked traffic for more than five hours to demand an immediate cleanup of the city. While some shielded themselves from rain with plastic shields, others got drenched as they protested outside civic offices.
“For so many days we have been lifting the bodies of the dead and now we are clearing animals from the roads. Is this our work?” asked a furious Hafeez Irani, his face covered with a handkerchief against the stench.
“The drains are choked. We still have no electricity,” said Irani, a construction worker. “We have these handkerchiefs on all the time.”
Civic leaders pleaded for patience. They claimed equipment and workers to clear roads and drains were being called in from other areas hit by landslides.
The recovery of 104 bodies in four mudslide-ravaged villages in Raigad district and two Bombay suburbs raised the official death toll to 853 on Saturday, said Kumar.
Most of the deaths were caused by landslides and flooding after Tuesday’s torrential rains cut off the state from the rest of the country. Rainfall was as much as 37 inches in parts of Bombay.
Four days after the deluge, government and relief officials said there was little likelihood of finding any survivors.
The government issued orders to stop all construction in the city so trucks could be used to transport garbage, debris and animal carcasses, mostly of cattle that can be found wandering in most Indian cities, said Satish Shinde, a civic official.
The miserable conditions in Bombay’s northern suburbs were exacerbated by the presence of dozens of cowsheds near shantytowns and residential apartments. The flooding killed hundreds of livestock and cattle.
As many as 409 people were killed in Bombay — most of them drowned in floods, buried by landslides, or electrocuted.
Despite renewed warnings from authorities to evacuate, residents in shanties built into small, crumbling hills in the city’s northern neighborhoods say they have no place to go.
“We came from the village because there is no work there. This is our home now,” said Sakina Yusuf, a housemaid with three children. “I know they say it’s unsafe … but move where?”