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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

At least 20 dead in Mumbai building collapse as rains continue to take toll

Tragedy adds to more than 1,200 rain-related deaths in south Asia this year

At least 20 people were killed when a building collapsed in the western Indian city of Mumbai on Thursday, the latest victims of deadly monsoon rains across south Asia that have claimed more than 1,200 lives so far this year.

The early morning collapse in south Mumbai came two days after torrential rains that flooded large areas of the city and left at least 10 people dead.

About a dozen people were rescued from the rubble of the four-storey residential building in the densely-populated Bhendi Bazaar area. The structure is believed to have been weakened by the heavy rain that hit the city.

Building collapses are common in Mumbai, especially during the monsoon season from late June to September. Seventeen people were killed when another four-storey building collapsed in the suburb of Ghatkopar last month.

Heavy rains in the current monsoon have affected 40 million people across India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Besides forcing people out of homes, disrupting transport and destroying crops, damage to 18,000 schools has meant no class for about 1.8 million children.

The rains that lashed Mumbai this week were the heaviest in 12 years, causing severe flooding that affected normal life and caused widespread damage across the city and the neighbouring region of Thane.

Train services were cancelled because of flooding on the tracks and residents had to wade through streets waist-deep in water, including many who were forced to abandon their cars.

Many likened the situation to the severe floods of 2005 when hundreds of people died. As Mumbai is the financial capital of India and the country's richest city, with a total total wealth of $820 billion, according to the New World Wealth report, questions have been raised about whether more could have been done to prevent the flooding.

Other parts of India, particularly Assam and Bihar, have been hard hit this monsoon. The northern states are part of a broad arc stretching across the Himalayan foothills in India, Nepal and Bangladesh where heavy rains have causes landslides, damaged roads and electric towers and washed away tens of thousands of homes and vast swaths of farmland.

The NGO Save The Children said 18,000 schools were destroyed or damaged, affecting about 1.8 million children. The charity warned on Thursday that if education was not made a priority in relief efforts, hundreds of thousands could fall out of the school system permanently.

In Mumbai, although much of the flooding had receded by Wednesday, residents were left clearing up the damage and counting their losses.

The owner of one grocery shop in south Mumbai estimated the damage to his goods at up to 800,000 rupees (Dh45,876).

“It's going to take me months to recover from this,” he said.

City authorities have faced questions over why the city was so hard hit despite substantial investments in drainage systems. In its defence, Mumbai's municipal corporation says the rains were exceptionally heavy.

“The BMC has to gives some answers on this, why this problem has occurred a number of times," said Rushiraj Bagwaiya, an administrative assistant. "Two years back I remember there were some problems seen at the time of the rains.”

He said litter and in particular plastic bags were a major problem because they clogged up the drainage system.

“We managed this time, but next time we think the authorities should take care of it,” he said.

But Sunil Chaubal, a lawyer who was stranded at a train station, said the floods were simply "a natural calamity" and not the fault of the authorities.

“We cannot blame anyone,” he said. “Mumbai is flooded by so many people from all over the country, and they're throwing plastic all over the road and that's clogging up the drains. People suffered. Mumbai did well to survive. If the rain had continued it would have been far worse."