Emergency teams confronted thick sludge and debris in attempts to evacuate people across hard-hit Maharashtra state, home to Mumbai. Thousands of trucks were stuck on the partly submerged highway between Mumbai and the technology hub of Bangalore on Saturday.
At least 113 people were killed in Maharashtra, officials said Sunday, and at least 100 people there were still missing. More than 130,000 people had been rescued from about 900 villages across the state as of Sunday, the Associated Press reported.
India deployed its military to assist in rescue efforts and provide medical aid to those affected by the floods and landslides. The Department of Military Affairs established a Central War Room to coordinate those efforts, an Indian Army account tweeted Sunday.
Photos and videos shared by the army on social media show soldiers helping marooned villagers in Maharashtra into wooden boats. In others, women lean on soldiers for support as they walk through the muddy water, and army personnel are pictured applying first aid to injured civilians.
The official flood forecaster for India’s Central Water Commission on Sunday warned that states north of Maharashtra could see “isolated very heavy rainfall” in the coming days, and that some rivers remained at risk of rising further.
Climate scientists say that these ravaging global floods should serve as a wake-up call for leaders to take action on climate change. While monsoon rains are a regular occurrence in India, a warmer atmosphere retains more moisture, which causes heavy rainfall during storms, some experts note.
“The rain fury that lashed Mahabaleshwar … is a strong warning against any more tampering with the ecologically fragile Western Ghats,” Indian economist Devinder Sharma wrote on Twitter on Friday, referring to a chain of mountains running parallel to India’s western coast.
Climate scientist Roxy Mathew Koll of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology told the Agence France-Presse news agency that climate change was causing the Arabian Sea to heat up, making the air above warmer and capable of holding more moisture.
The Maharashtra city of Kolhapur — which sits at the banks of one of the region’s most important waterways, the Panchganga River — was almost totally submerged, Times of India drone footage showed on Saturday.
A landslide Thursday flattened most homes in the village of Taliye — 110 miles southeast of Mumbai — where the death toll reached at least 50, according to the Times of India. Dozens of people remained missing.
“The possibility of rescuing them alive is thin as they’ve been trapped in mud for more than 36 hours,” Reuters quoted a government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with media, as saying.
“No advance disaster alert was given to the villagers,” said Milind Gangawane, a Taliye resident interviewed by the Times of India. “Our tribal hamlet has 45 houses with a population of over 120. Boulders from the hill fell from a height of 100 feet in the landslide.”
The hill station of Mahabaleshwar, south of Mumbai, recorded its highest ever rainfall: 60 centimeters, or more than 23 inches, in 24 hours.
The chief minister of Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray, on Friday wrote on Twitter to the people of Taliye: “You have faced a major tragedy. Hence, right now, you just need to take care of yourself. Leave the rest to the Government. We will ensure that everyone is rehabilitated and compensated for their losses.”
Rain let up along the region’s west coast and water levels of most of the area’s west-flowing rivers had receded by Sunday, according to the India Meteorological Department.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in a tweet Friday that he was “anguished by the loss of lives due to a landslide” in Maharashtra. “The situation in Maharashtra due to heavy rains is being closely monitored and assistance is being provided to the affected.”
India’s Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Narayan Rane, and two opposition politicians toured the landslide-stricken village of Taliye on Sunday to inspect rescue efforts. He pledged central government help with rebuilding and said Modi had asked him to prepare a report on the site, the Times of India reported.
Asked how a “chain of tragedies” could have hit Maharashtra, Rane reportedly demurred.
“This is not the time to indulge in pointing fingers at anyone,” he said, according to the Times of India. “Who could have ever thought that this hill would come crashing down like this. The topmost priority now is to assist the affected populace which has lost everything in the disaster.”
But opposition politician D.K. Shivakumar criticized the Modi government’s handling of the flooding and challenged the ruling party to hold fresh elections, according to the Press Trust of India.
Authorities over the weekend advised citizens staying close to rivers to take precautions — but “alternate arrangements must be made” for sites with coronavirus patients, wrote Thackeray.
Maharashtra on Sunday reported 6,843 new coronavirus cases over the previous 24 hours. India as a whole recorded nearly 40,000 new cases and 535 deaths in that period, according to health ministry data.
The numbers mark a significant decline from the country’s peak in early May — but the severe weather events have complicated treatment of covid patients in affected areas. Indian media reported Saturday that flooding in the city of Chiplun in Maharashtra caused power and oxygen cuts that might have contributed to the deaths of eight covid patients.