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Sleepless, with the sound of rain

Mumbai, Aug. 6: They have trouble sleeping when they hear the sound of rain.

The new Air-India Colony in Kalina, Santa Cruz East, one of the places worst affected by the floods, which L.K. Advani visited today, is still in the grip of fear. Their nightmare has just ended. Or perhaps not.

On July 26, the water had crept into first floor flats in the colony, which houses 400 families of Air-India employees in spacious, two-storey buildings. It remained for three days.

By then, about 12 people ' more outsiders than residents ' had drowned to a slow death. The residents were helpless spectators to their dying screams.

The colony, with the old Air-India colony and the Indian Airlines colony as neighbours, bore the brunt of the fury.

But residents feel the worst may not be over as the circumstances that led to the flooding are unaltered.

The new colony shares its boundary wall with the Kurla-Kalina road, which became a death trap. The road is flanked by the colony on one side and airport ground on the other with the Mithi river flowing very close. Water came in from the airport ground, to the road, to the colony.

The swelling of the Mithi river, because of unplanned development and unchecked waste disposal into its bed, led to the worst disasters at Sakinaka, Kurla, Kalina and Mahim. Just three months ago, its course was diverted by 20 metres to extend a taxiway.

“For five years, we have seen the ground level rising on airport ground because of new construction, raising the river’s catchment area,” said Tapas Deb, general secretary of the Air-India colony. “That is on one side. On the other side of the colony, there is raised ground because of an MMRDA project.”

On July 26, the residents saw the water level rise beyond the barbed wire on the 10-feet wall and engulf the road and the compound.

Within the colony, as the water built up and started to drown everything inside the flats, ground-floor residents clambered up to first-floor flats or terraces.

“But one lady, who thought the water would eventually go down, climbed up to the loft of her flat. As the water rose, she could not get down. No one could open the door from outside because of the water pressure from within. She died,” said Deb.

There were no other deaths in the colony, but on the road people were dying.

“On the road, the water was 15 feet high. There were people trapped inside buses and autos. We tied saris and stretched them from our buildings to the boundary wall. Those who came out of the vehicles climbed into our colony clutching that sari-rope. The others we could not help,” he said.

“We heard their screams.” There were three women and two men in the bus, two persons in an auto. One person died when a part of the wall collapsed on him. “But we could do nothing.”

The water kept the flats submerged for three days. When it had just begun to go down, there was the second spell of rain. The water rose again.

“There was no power, no drinking water,” said Subir Dutta, a deputy chief aircraft engineer, another resident. There was no help either, he said, with navy personnel coming in only after the worst was over.

The children are scared. They have not been to school since the flooding. “If it rains at night, we have trouble falling asleep,” said Dutta.

“We have repeatedly told the authorities about the danger to our colony because of the construction projects. As secretary, I have done so for five years,” said Deb.

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