The heaviest monsoon downpour in nearly 50 years has brought Mumbai to a standstill, with stranded passengers at railway stations having to be rescued by dinghies from waist-high water.
People who live in areas normally unaffected by the annual monsoon flooding looked out from their high-rise flats at new swirling rivers outside caused by the heaviest single day’s rain recorded in August in 47 years.
Wednesday saw extraordinary downpours and winds of more than 100km/h tossing cars aside, uprooting trees, tearing down hoardings and smashing cranes at the port.
Even on Marine Drive, the famous arc-shaped boulevard that runs alongside the Arabian Sea and is lined with art deco buildings, the relentless rain caused flooding. This area is normally not affected by torrential monsoon rain as the drainage system usually works better than in low-lying areas of the city that are usually worst-hit.
Other areas where the elite live – Fort, Colaba, Churchgate, Breach Candy and Pedder Road – and where many heritage buildings are located, were also flooded.
So far India’s commercial capital has been inundated with 2,319mm of rain. The annual average is 2,260mm.
“Every year we suffer from flooding, every year it’s the same nightmare but this is altogether different. I saw coconuts flying off in the air and smashing into car windows,” said Reshma Patil who lives on the 10th floor of an apartment block on Peddar Road.
Her neighbour said he saw signposts and huge metal sheets from a nearby construction site flying past his window.
Waterlogged roads, fallen trees and abandoned cars have added to the usual traffic mayhem in this city of 12 million people where approximately 60% of the population live in slums. Train and bus services have been suspended and many flights cancelled.
People who are stranded and unable to go home have been put up inside schools that have been turned into temporary shelters.
Every year monsoon rains bring the city to a halt and expose its crumbling infrastructure. Every year the city authorities promise to clear the Victorian-era drainage system of silt and debris before the monsoon hits but the same deluge happens, disrupting normal life for weeks.
The flooding is yet another battle for residents overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Mumbai is the worst-affected city in the country. Infections have been rising across the India since March, with around 1.8 million infections and close to 40,000 deaths.
A survey last month showed that more than half the people who live in its sprawling slums had been infected with the virus.