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Churches in Mumbai open doors to flood victims

NEW DELHI (UCAN): Catholic dioceses in flood-hit Mumbai, India, have opened their churches and institutions to accommodate thousands of people stranded in the city by heavy rain and flooded streets.
Oswald Cardinal Gracias of Bombay (Mumbai), and Bishop Thomas Elavanal of Kalyan, asked their parish priests on August 5 to help stranded and homeless people as heavy rain continued in western India.
Thousands of train passengers were stranded in different areas of the city, Indian’s financial capital, and in other suburbs and towns of Maharashtra state as two days of continuous rain began to submerge rail tracks, forcing authorities to cancel or divert services.
“Several churches and other institutions in Mumbai and its surroundings have been partially submerged in the flood water following incessant rain in the past couple of days in the city,” Father Nigel Barett, spokesperson for Archdiocese of Bombay, said. Bombay is the former name of the city, which the archdiocese continues to use.
“People have been advised to move to safer places, or to our churches and schools on higher ground,” he said.
The region’s three major three rivers—Godavari, Krishna and Tapi—plus their ten tributaries flooded when authorities released water from overflowing dams after the region received an average of some 160-200mm of rain in 24 hours since August 1, reports said.
Five people were reported to have been killed in rain-related incidents. A further 35 people died during the monsoons that started in the region in July, according to media reports.
However, Mumbai authorities said there was “no reason to panic and most people remained indoors” on August 5 following widespread warnings of “very heavy” rain in the city.
Father Barret said the city had come to a standstill following the suspension of rail services, which he described as the “lifeline of Mumbai.”
He said, “Only those who ventured out were stranded on local train station platforms and other public places following the suspension of rail services.” Further disruption was caused by roadblocks due to waterlogging and the authorities’ decision to switch off electricity in many parts of the city.
“We have opened all our churches to accommodate flood-affected people,” Father Emmanual Kadankavil, the vicar general of Kalyan, said.
The Eastern-rite diocese published the names and contact numbers of parish priests in local media and social media platforms “to enable stranded people to seek help,” Father Kadankavil explained, adding that parishioners provided food and took care of the immediate needs of those sheltered in the churches.
Educational institutions in Mumbai and neighbouring districts were closed on August 5 following the warning from the weather bureau.
Sister Molly Thomas, the superior of Daughters of Sacred Heart of Jesus convent, said the flooding had been sudden and unexpected. When they went for Sunday Mass on August 4 at St. Thomas Cathedral “there was no water in the church compound but by the time we returned, the church compound was flooded,” she said.
The Tabor Divine Retreat Centre, popularly known as Tabor Ashram, in Raite village, on the outskirts of Kalyan town, was among the worst affected. “We have lost almost everything,” said its administrator, Vincentian Father Jacob Vattaparambil.
“A sudden flood on the night of August 1 washed away more than 300 beddings, chairs, prayer books, computers, sound system and 10 air conditioners among other things.”
He said the centre had suspended its programmes indefinitely, adding it could have been even worse. “There was no loss of human lives but some 400 people attending a retreat had left just one day before the flooding. That averted a huge human tragedy,” he said.
Flooding in the area is not unusual. “But a flood of this intensity is the first we have suffered,” Father Vattaparambil added.
Kalyan diocesan social work department director, Father Joby Aythamattathil, said they were examining how best they could help the neediest people.

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