On Tuesday afternoon, as Mumbai cowered under 331 mm of rainfall and low-lying areas filled up with several feet of water, Ida Mascarenhas couldn’t help fearing a rerun of the devastating floods of July 26, 2005. On that day 12 years ago, when Mumbai had received a record 944 mm of rain, Mascarenhas’ home in Bandra East’s Middle Income Group Colony was submerged in six feet of water for two days, and her family lost almost all their belongings.
Tuesday’s downpour was the second-heaviest recorded rainfall in the city since then, and once again, citizens were left stranded. Local trains were out of service for most of the day, traffic barely moved on water-logged roads and highways, a building collapsed, desperate citizens struggled to wade home and residents opened up their homes to offer food and shelter to strangers in need. At least five people have died and seven have been reported missing after the deluge.
For Mascarenhas, who works as a cook and lives in a ground-floor room close to the Mithi river, the similarity of Tuesday’s flood with the July 2005 flood lay in the smaller details.
“Our house had filled up with two-and-a-half feet of water and while we were draining it out with buckets, my daughter saw a small snake in the water,” said Mascarenhas, 50, who lives with her husband, a rickshaw driver, and her college-going daughter. “We were terrified because it felt just like 2005, when we found fish swimming in the water that filled our house.”
Fortunately for Mascarenhas and the rest of Mumbai, the flood of August 29 was not, objectively, as severe as the flood of July 26, 2005. Water-logging receded in most parts of the city by late Tuesday night, train services resumed and despite forecasts of heavy rain and possible flooding for the next two days, the city was able to crawl back to normalcy on Wednesday.
Like 2005, however, the group that suffered most acutely on August 29 was the one that got the least visibility in the media and on social media: the residents of Mumbai’s working-class neighbourhoods and slums. For some, the experience of Tuesday’s flood actually turned out to be worse.
‘Water was seeping through the walls’
“This was the worst flood I have ever seen here, and I have been living in this slum for 35 years,” said Pushpa Davne, a 60-year-old housewife from Janseva Rahivasi Sangh, a slum in a low-lying neighbourhood in Mahim.
At 11 am on Tuesday, Davne’s slum began to fill up with water that didn’t recede for the next 15 hours. Davne spent most of the day standing in waist-high water, while her husband – a cancer patient with an amputated left leg – had no option but to sit at the edge of the bed and wait.
“In 2005 the water-logging was barely ankle-deep, but this time everything from our clothes to our stored grains and vegetables have been drenched in dirty flood water,” said Atmaram Davne, Pushpa’s husband and a former fisherman.
Further down the lane in the same slum, Nilesh Vaidya’s family also experienced similar problems. “Our refrigerator has stopped working because it got flooded with one foot of water in the night,” said Vaidya, a college student who, like all other residents of the slum, spent most of Wednesday scrubbing and disinfecting his house after salvaging what he could from their clothes and other belongings.
In Ramgad, a Mahim slum right on the edge of the Mithi river, some residents were unable to keep their belongings dry even after piling them up on higher shelves. “It was raining so heavily in the evening that water began to seep through the walls,” said Priyanka Shastri, a housewife whose husband, an Ola driver, was stranded in Dadar for most of the day.
No gutters cleaned
Ironically, even though Shastri’s slum is on the banks of the river Mithi, it wasn’t the overflowing river that led to flooding in her part of the slum. The culprit, she said, was a drainage pipeline with a manhole right in front of her house. “All the basti women spent at least six hours yesterday trying to drain the water out of our houses, one bucket at a time,” she said. “Now we are exhausted, but what can we do? This is how things are.”
The Davnes of Janseva slum have not, however, been in such a forgiving mood. They blame the flood squarely on local municipal officials who allegedly failed to clean out all the plastic and other trash from the gutters near the slum.
“Every monsoon the municipal workers come and clean the gutters, but this year when they came, they insisted that we pay them Rs 300 each for the job,” said Atmaram Davne. “We survive on barely Rs 3,000 month and have trouble affording three meals a day. How can we afford to pay municipal workers too?”
In Bandra, Ida Mascarenhas is also upset with local municipal workers. “Normally when the roads get flooded, the ward office workers come to open the manholes, but this time, no one was in sight,” said Mascarenhas. “Our neighbours eventually opened up the local manhole themselves, to allow the water to drain out with the tide.”