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India: Monsoon Death Toll Tops 500

Digging through rivers of mud and debris, rescuers scoured flood-ravaged Bombay neighborhoods and outlying villages Thursday in search of survivors of record-breaking rains that killed at least 513 people.

Meanwhile, a top government official says a stampede -- set off by false rumors of a dam burst -- killed at least 15 people, including seven children. More than 25 people were injured. The stampede occurred late today in a slum in northern Bombay.

While the rains have ended, leaving just an overcast sky, parts of the city were hit by up to 94 centimeters (37 inches) of rain on Tuesday, the highest one-day total in Indian history. Those rains, and the comparatively lighter downpours that stretched into Wednesday, brought this city to a halt and devastated wide swaths of surrounding Maharashtra state.

With a government-ordered holiday keeping workers at home, the region spent Thursday trying to recover.

In the northern Bombay suburb of Saki Naka, relief workers and survivors sifted through the rubble of a shanty town crushed when a water-soaked hill collapsed on top of it. While the complete toll was unclear, at least 110 people were killed, and more than 45 people were missing and presumed dead.

"It was terrible to pull out little babies from under boulders and mud," said firefighter S. Shinde, wiping his brow with mud-caked hands. "The very young and the old just didn't make it.

On Thursday, rescuers piled bodies onto trucks and flagged down private cars to carry several dozens of injured people to hospitals.

Officials said 273 people died in Bombay, India's financial capital and the capital of Maharashtra. Most people drowned, were crushed by falling walls or were electrocuted.

The morning after the deluge, the government began warning people to remain in their offices or homes. But for some, who had set off from their offices Tuesday night, the warnings came too late.

"I lost count of the number of people who were electrocuted. There were clusters of people who stepped on exposed wires," said civic relief worker Arya B. "They should have just stayed where they were."

At least 513 people were reported dead across Maharashtra, said B.M. Kulkarni, the deputy secretary in charge of the state's emergency control room in Bombay.

On Thursday, the normally bustling city was concerned simply with getting itself back on track. The Bombay Stock Exchange did not open, and many banks and other financial institutions remained shut. Phone service was still spotty, some neighborhoods remained without electricity and stretches of some roads remained blocked by hundreds of cars abandoned when they stalled in the rain.

By evening, train services were back on track and the city's airports, among the busiest in the nation, were again open to flights.

Bombay's residents responded to the devastation by opening up their homes and distributing food to motorists stuck in traffic and people wading through water.

"They were just angels. Women and children were giving food, biscuits to people on the road and even assuring us that it was home-cooked," said G. Sawant, a manager at a private infrastructure company.

Residents tied ropes across flooded roads to help people wade through waist-deep water as workers repaired communication networks and towed away abandoned cars and buses.

But many stories ended in tragedy.

On Tuesday, Bombay's roads had become fierce rivers. On Thursday, much of the rainwater had ebbed — people largely walked on dry roads, although the worst-affected areas in the suburbs still saw people walking in knee-deep water.

Pallavi Jain shuddered when she recalled how no one could help the motorists in a car behind hers.

"My car was flooded with water in less than five minutes. I managed to get out and just saw the car sink. I couldn't believe this had happened on a Bombay road," said Jain, 25, a computer programmer, on her way home after spending two nights in a friend's residence in central Bombay.

"There were two men in the car behind mine and by the time people tried to open their door it was too late. They couldn't do anything. The doors were jammed. It was awful."

After sleeping for two nights on couches and carpets in their offices, hundreds of Bombay residents clambered onto the newly running trains Thursday to get back to the suburbs.

"It will be such a relief to get home. But after hearing the horror stories of how people were swept away in the floods we were at least safe in the office," said Mangesh Nath, a trader with a Bombay brokerage firm.

State police officials said rescue teams were distributing food packets and water to people marooned in villages cut off by flood waters. They were also recovering bodies floating in murky swirling water.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of condolences to Indian officials. In Vatican City, the pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano said Benedict was "deeply saddened" to learn about the deaths in Bombay — home to some of India's oldest Catholic churches — and other parts of Maharashtra.

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