Three bodies were recovered on Thursday morning as search and rescue operations resumed at the Savitri river, more than 36 hours after a bridge collapsed in Maharashtra’s Raigad district.
Raigad collector Sheetal Ugale confirmed that a body was recovered from Anjarle beach, about 150 kilometers from the location where around 10 vehicles, including two state transport buses, fell into the river.
The body was identified as that of Srikant Kamble who was driving a Jaigad-Mumbai state transport bus.
A second body, that of a woman, was found at Harihareshwar beach, about 60 kilometers from Mahad. Authorities, however, are trying to ascertain if the body is from the bridge collapse.
A third body, also of a woman, was found at Kemburli.
The Coast Guard, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Navy began combing the river early in the morning, looking for signs of the vehicles. Heavy rains had caused the Savitri to flood, leading to the collapse of a century-old colonial bridge that links to the Mumbai-Goa highway around Tuesday midnight. Two bodies were recovered by Wednesday afternoon, but authorities estimate around 30 people are still missing.
Sources from the NDRF said the massive magnet being used to trace metal bodies in the river may have found something as it become stationary underwater. Teams are waiting to pull out the 300 kg magnet using a crane.
“Something has got stuck in one of the hooks we had put in the river from the new bridge. But it is not clear if that is a vehicle as we have not been able to penetrate the surface due to the strong current in the river,” said a NDRF official.
“The current is same as it was on Wednesday. Our officials are also trying to trace the vehicles and the people in boats up to three kilometers down the spot.We hope to recover the vehicles and some people by today evening,” the official added.
The incessant rains in the catchment areas of Mahabaleshwar, where river Savitri originates, has made the rescue operations a tough task given the raging torrent of muddy water.
Officials also fear that the current will have carried bodies and vehicles out into sea.
Two helicopters each from Navy and Indian Coast Guard along with river rafters have been pressed into service while scuba divers and electronic sensors to locate human bodies under the water will bolster efforts on Thursday.
Mahad Police and local residents have also joined in the operations. Raigad district superintendent of police, Suvez Haque, said various agencies were part of the operations combing the 30-kilometer stretch of the river.
Families asked to approach authorities
Relatives of two families arrived at Mahad, claiming seven of their kin were travelling in a Tavera from Guhaghar to Mumbai, and were not reachable since Tuesday night. “I talked to my relatives over phone at around 11pm when they were having dinner. However, in the morning I noticed that they have not reached their homes nor they are reachable,” said Ashish Bhalekar.
District administration said there were 22 persons including the driver and conductor travelling in two Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation buses. The Jaigad-Mumbai and Rajapur-Borivali buses had 17 passengers on board.
“Based on the information shared by one eyewitness, we suspect two buses have been washed away. Apart from people travelling in two ST buses, we have appealed people to come forward if their kin who were supposed to have travelled by this road has not reached the desired destination,” said Sheetal Ugale, district collector, Raigad.
Time and nature lead to disaster
More than half the 100-year-old bridge, connecting Mahad-Poladpur section, gave way at around 11:30pm due to the rains and river current. Such was the ferocity of the water that locals didn’t hear the noise from the bridge collapse.
According to Basant Kumar, an eyewitness, two Mumbai-bound buses fell into the river after the bridge crumbled within seconds. “I first noted a bus going down. Within moments I saw another vehicle falling in the river,” said Kumar, who works at a garage near the bridge.
The collapsed bridge had apparently surpassed its utility period, but the state Public Works Department allowed vehicular traffic on it, despite another bridge being built parallel to it in 2000. Traffic moving towards Mumbai plied on the old bridge while vehicles moving towards Goa where routed to the new bridge.