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Flood before festival

Oct. 7: Primed for the Pujas, Calcutta shivered out of bed this morning and started pumping ' at the frenetic rate of 32,000 gallons per second.

Then realisation splashed in and cold sweat broke: civic officials claimed that 10,000 million gallons of water had come crashing down on the city overnight in a long burst reminiscent of the 1999 September shock shower.

Bare-bone statistics put last night's marathon downpour a shade below the earlier deluge: Calcutta recorded 190.4 mm rainfall between 2.30 pm on Wednesday and 2.30 pm on Thursday. On September 24, 1999, the figure was 192.4 mm.

The impact, however, was no less stunning. The Puja fever ' bubbling close to boiling point ' sank overnight and the waves of water swept the city into a bandh-like shell.

The wet blanket spread its stain so wide that even the usually bandh-proof infotech industry was not left untouched. Sources in Saltlec ' the state's infotech hub ' said attendance was 'really low in the morning'.

By evening, boats had started plying in pockets of the city to ferry relief to residents marooned in the middle of the metropolis.

When Kajari Das, who stays off Amherst Street ' one of the areas that fell along the boat route ' stepped into the kitchen this morning, she found utensils afloat. 'There was no point in even trying to salvage anything till the water had gone down,' she said.

The weatherman has held out hope of the sky clearing tomorrow, though scattered rains are not ruled out.

If the forecast comes true, the Puja spirit is certain to steam back. But the Puja industry is in doldrums and is not sure how it will meet deadlines for idols to pandals.

Another fallout will be in evidence when the revellers hit the road. The flood has thrown haywire the government's pre-Puja road reconstruction plan, which needs at least 25 dry days.

The 1999 deluge, too, had brought along ominous portends for the Pujas. On October 16 that year ' less than a month after the city floods ' a cyclone alert was sounded. A day later ' on Saptami ' the threat bypassed Calcutta and snowballed into a supercyclone and devastated Orissa.

Thursday's still waters also sent down the drain mayor Subrata Mukherjee's repeated claims that Calcuttans would not face waterlogging this year.

Tragedy struck, too. The battering rain killed nine people in the state. Inclement weather also wreaked havoc in Assam's Guwahati, where six people died.

Two women were killed in north Calcutta. Mira Saha, 40, was electrocuted while hanging out clothes on a metal wire. Abharani Bhattacharya, 60, was killed when the first floor of her neighbour's two-storeyed house collapsed. Chunks of concrete fell on Bhattacharya's kitchen that caved in on her while she was cooking.

Several other houses were damaged in the city and nearly 50 trees were uprooted. Over 1,200 people had to be evacuated to safer places.

The incessant rain, which gathered strength around 9 pm on Wednesday and howled down till 1 pm on Thursday, was attributed to a sudden change in the wind pattern.

The director of the weather section at the regional meteorological centre in Alipore, K.K. Chakraborty, said a 'quasi-stationary' low pressure point over interior Orissa, fed by moisture from the Bay of Bengal, intensified into a depression on Wednesday evening and reached Bankura on Thursday morning. Later, it headed towards north Bengal. 'This is why the city received such a heavy downpour.'

Power supply was disrupted in many areas because of waterlogging. More than 60 local and several long-distance trains were cancelled.

Civic officials operated 17 pumps in the city round the clock and drained 32,000 gallons of water per second. Mala Roy, the mayor-in-council in charge of sewerage and drainage, said 10,000 million gallons of water had collected in the city overnight.

Over 1,000 people were shifted to safer places at Behala, Metiabruz, Bishnupur, Mahestala and areas adjacent to the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Marooned residents of the EM Bypass area were shifted to incomplete flats of Peerless Housing and the West Bengal Housing Board.

A 24-hour control room has been opened at Writers' Buildings where ministers would also monitor relief operations.

 

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