I Haven't Seen This Kind Of Rain In Years In Mumbai

It has been at least two years since I saw rain like this. It has rained practically the entire night and afternoon and Mumbai has once again been brought to a standstill. And once again Mumbaikars waded through waist-deep water to reach home or work. Many were left stranded in buses, taxis and cars.

When I went to sleep last night, I had mentally prepared myself for one of those days, when the entire day is spent wading through water reporting on how India's "Maximum City" is coping with the intense pressure on its infrastructure in the heavy rain. The rain seemed unending but since the day had passed by without too many hassles, I was being hopeful.

On a rainy day, as reporters we check on the trains first. If the trains are running, things are usually fine. If they aren't, then we've got a problem on our hands. At around 10:30 am, the first signs of trouble came. Central Railway stopped operations on the harbour line and soon after on the main line. Western Railway followed suit soon and we knew this was "one of those days".

Soon, the traffic jams started and rain got even harder. Out of curiosity, I made a call to a regular source at the Met department to check if this was normal and he confirmed that the rain was indeed abnormal. So now, we had a situation on our hands.

As we headed out to the usual spots (the low-lying areas) we found that several areas that do not report waterlogging on most days also had knee-deep water. It was then that the intensity of the rain got even worse.

This monsoon has been particularly bad with freak weather hitting Mumbai twice. The entire rainfall for the month of June fell in the last three days and on July 2 it rained 911 per cent more than normal. And now the entire rainfall the month of September has fallen in just two days. This kind of freak weather is recurring regularly and Mumbai needs to wake up now. We have had around 600 per cent of the normal rainfall in the past two days. And as a journalist, we've seen this happen with alarming regularity and this concerns me. We have always had a full three-to-four months of monsoon. Now, it's just limited to days and while we are getting the same amount of rain. It's quite clear that Mumbai needs to be prepared for much worse weather.

Mumbai has a peculiar drainage system. Being a coastal city, its storm water drains have lock gates which are shut during high tide when the level of the water in the sea rises. At this time heavy duty pumps kick in to pump out drain water. When the tide goes down, the gates are opened again and water that has collected in low-lying areas gradually drains out. There are a couple of more things that are unique to Mumbai. The island city is an amalgamation of seven islands and therefore there are low-lying areas and higher areas. If heavy rain coincides with a high tide, low-lying areas are bound to be waterlogged. And when it's extremely heavy rain like what the city saw today. And most importantly, hardly any water percolates into the ground in Mumbai. All the rain water that Mumbai city receives runs off through its storm water drains.

The city has been through hell today. I have seen traumatised mothers wading through water to reach their stranded children and fathers carrying little children on their shoulders to make sure they reach home safely. And while we must question authorities on where they've failed, the real question is, if we stand a chance in the face of nature's fury.

(Saurabh Gupta is Bureau Chief - Mumbai at NDTV)

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