At least 29 people are missing since two buses and about 10 private vehicles fell into a swollen Savitri river after a British-era bridge was washed away near Mahad on the Mumbai-Goa national highway.
The bridge collapsed around midnight on Tuesday, but vehicles, unable to see the missing section in the dark, too fell into the river. Two Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses were among the vehicles, carrying 17 passengers in total.
Twelve of the 17 passengers were identified on Wednesday. A family of five who live in the city are among them.
Even after hours of searching, the rescue teams were unable recover anyone suspected to have been washed away. The three teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), two helicopters each from the Navy and the Indian Coast Guard along with local river rafting teams were carrying out the search and rescue operation.
Locals, however, found the bodies of two men 8 km downstream from the site of the collapse. State authorities, including the Raigad collector and the state public works minister, said the bodies were yet to be identified.
Stalled traffic from the collapsed bridge was diverted to a parallel bridge, the collector said.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis visited the spot and ordered an inquiry into the incident. “The inquiry will reveal if there were any lapses on the part of the administration while assessing the condition of bridge that collapsed,” he said, adding that the search operation would continue till all the missing persons were found.
A 300-kg magnet mounted on crane was being used by the NDRF to trace the exact location of vehicles washed away in the incident.
“Various agencies are involved in rescue operation in the 30-kilometre stretch of the river. However so far no vehicle has been found during search operation,” said Suvez Haque, superintendent of police, Raigad district.
Inclement weather made the operations harder.
According to MSRTC officials, the incident happened around 11:30 pm. They received information of the mishap when a driver of a Mumbai-bound bus saw a state transport bus being swept away in the current and alerted MSRTC control.
“Appearantly two buses, Jaigad-Mumbai and Rajapur-Borivali, are suspected to have washed away in the flood when the bridge collapsed along with some private vehicles. Seventeen passengers, nine and eight each, were travelling in the two buses,”said VV Ratnaparakhi, general manager (traffic), MSRTC.
The corporation has been unable to contact their staff on the buses.
MSRTC is the biggest public transport undertaking in the country with more than 17,000 buses ferrying 60 lakh passengers daily.
Rescue efforts afoot
Ranjitsingh Deol, vice chairman and managing director of MSRTC, said their officials had reached the spot and were assisting the NDRF team and other authorities in search and rescue operations.
Anupam Srivastava, commandant, NDRF (Pune), said, “The first team comprising of 40 men consisting of divers, swimmers, boats and equipment necessary for rescue operations was dispatched at 5 am in the morning. Three more teams -- two from Mumbai and one from Pune, each consisting of 40 men, have been asked to join operations.”
The Coast Guard dispatched a Chetak helicopter for search sorties at about 8:15 am to locate people who were swept away in the river’s current. A Seaking 42C all weather aircraft with diving team is being launched by the Indian Navy, a defence spokesperson said.
Additional superintendent of police (Raigad), Sanjay Patil, said 35 professional divers were combing the area on five boats and two kayaks. He added one helicopter from the coast guard and Navy each had joined the aerial survey.
For information on the missing persons, one may contact the toll free number 1077 or call on 02141 - 222118.
(With inputs from HTC, Mumbai and agencies)