AN UPSIDE down pressure cooker, pieces of broken furniture, two school bags and a notebook were some of the things floating in waist-high water when Meena Chauhan opened her ground-floor flat in Vishal Nagar, Vasai West, for the first time in three days on Wednesday afternoon. “The furniture, TV, fridge, everything is gone,” she said, breaking down before shutting her door.
Since Sunday night, Meena and her two teenaged children had camped on the terrace of Mantara building where all ground-floor flats are heavily waterlogged. It was on Monday evening that she last spoke with her husband, who was stuck at work in Borivali and could not reach home because local train services between Bhayander and Virar were suspended.
A torrential downpour over the past three days has left the satellite townships of Vasai, Virar and Nallasopara – located around 50 km off Mumbai – flooded and residents marooned. In Vasai, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway in the east, Vishal Nagar, Evershine City, Vasant Nagari, Manikpur and station road on the west of the railway tracks were some of the places that suffered the worst flooding. Both east and west Nallasopara saw flooding. Some of the areas that were inaccessible were Moregaon, Central Park, Manvelpada and Virar Road. While Tuesday saw Vasai receive 299 mm of rain, in the 24 hours ending Wednesday 8.30 am, the area received an average of 242 mm rain.
“We climbed to the terrace after water levels started rising on Sunday night. We left with whatever we had on us – just our clothes – thinking the water would recede in a few hours. Every year our area sees flooding but this time there was three feet water in our house on Tuesday,” said Chauhan.
The street outside, too, was flooded and the underground water tanks are now polluted, leaving little or no potable water for consumption. In the absence of electricity, residents didn’t have any means to charge their phones or pump water into the overhead tanks. Water bottles were short in supply and much in demand at grocery stores and medical shops in the area. “There is no food. Until Wednesday none of the grocery shops were open. Now we are living on biscuits and bread,” said Kiran Chaudhary, another resident of the area who is growing concerned about the health of her four-month-old daughter. Many are carrying pails of the flood water to a toilet in the nearby public school, as there is no water in the taps.
Kiran’s father-in law, Anil, who works as a peon in Khar, said, “In my 16 years in Vasai, I have never seen floods like these. The water is just not receding.”
Even as rains subsided on Tuesday night, the water levels receded only marginally. Evershine City and Vasant Nagari areas remained shut off from the main town throughout the day as a 3-km stretch of road connecting these areas to the railway station was under water.
With rain coming to a halt on Wednesday morning, many residents attempted to go to work. Many waded through waist-deep water to reach the station only to be disappointed because train services did not resume until noon. After an unsuccessful attempt at reaching the station, Shabana Sheikh, a resident of Evershine City, walked till the highway to catch a state transport bus. “Nothing worked. I am just frustrated and going home,” she said.
Editorial | Writ in the rain
“It is almost like house arrest because we can’t just step out but then our food stock is running out. We couldn’t even get a packet of milk until Wednesday afternoon. There is some flooding in the area every year but this year is worse because the water level is just not going down,” said Shailen Ashar, a local businessman and resident of Krishna Kanhaiya building in Evershine City.
Tuesday’s high tide, which led to heavy flooding, continued on Wednesday, making matters worse, according to Palghar district collector Prashant Narnaware. “We visited the heavily flooded areas in Vasai and Nallasopara and noticed that water levels in low-lying areas have not reduced much. This is particularly so near the creek. On Tuesday, high tide coupled with heavy rains led to the flood situation. The high tide has continued on Wednesday and our storm water drains are choked. Therefore, the flood water is not flowing into the sea,” said Narnaware.
Since Monday, local authorities rescued around 400 people from the low lying Manikpur saltpan lands and provided them temporary accommodation in Vartak College. However, on Wednesday, as soon as the downpour stopped, several families returned to their still-submerged homes. “It is our home and we are used to the floods. We will take shelter in the temple compound and as soon as water goes down we will retrieve anything of value that is left at home,” said Sakharben Gala, as she prepared to cross neck-high waters to reach the temple.
Meanwhile many residents of Vasai and Nallasopara blamed the civic body’s neglect of infrastructure. “Every monsoon Nallasopara is submerged and it takes two days for the water to recede. The Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation (VVMC) doesn’t bother cleaning the nullahs or working on the drainage system,” said Amit Goria, 29, a resident of Nallasopara East.
“In most areas where there is flooding, construction is done below the road level. In the past two days, Vasai has received around 700-mm rain, which is unprecedented. Here the direction of water flow is from east to west and due to high tide on Wednesday morning and evening, water is finding resistance to go into the sea. Moreover, the culverts under the railway tracks are too small for water to pass,” said municipal commissioner Satish Lokhande.
Other residents blamed the unplanned and illegal construction along the creek for the calamity. “All of this was built on salt pan lands and along the creek,” said Bhola Patil, a Waliv resident, panning his arm across Manikpur to Evershine City and Vasant Nagari. “Where will storm water go? There is no point for discharge,” he said.
Narnaware told The Indian Express: “Construction on private reclaimed land, which is not illegal, as well as the slums that have come up along the creek are interfering with the natural drainage system of the area. We are working around this problem and are planning a bigger storm water drainage pipe.”
Meanwhile, waterlogging in an electric substation resulted in large scale blackouts across Vasai and Nallasopara on Tuesday morning. Electricity supply was restored in Vasai and surrounding areas at 8.30pm. A source in the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd said that a transmission substation handling high tension wires was submerged in three feet of water on Tuesday morning and power supply was disconnected as a precaution. “Since noon some of the water has receded, and by 4.30 pm three feeder pumps were restored,” said the officer.
In the absence of electricity, hospitals and medicine shops had to depend on inverters. Dr BN Vishwakarma, the resident medical officer of Shree Siddhivinayak Multispecialty hospital in Vasai West, said the hospital saved as much energy as possible for emergency patients. “Because not many could step out, we haven’t had any emergency cases. Some patients complained of bodyache and fever, they were treated. We have kept most of our appliances switched off to save electricity,” he said.