As choppers hovered over the Savitri River in search of victims of a fatal bridge collapse on the Mumbai-Goa highway on Wednesday, family members and relatives of the missing victims sat anxiously by the telephone or glued to the television awaiting any news about their fate.
Sunil Balekar, 38, a resident of Vile Parle, told HT that his two sisters — Snehal Bahikar, 30, and Dipali Balekar, 28 — Snehal’s husband Sunil, 32, and Dipali’s nephew Anish, 11, were missing since Tuesday evening.
“At 6 pm, soon after finishing the last rites of my father, who had died 13 days ago, Snehal and Dipali called me before taking the state transport bus from Chiplun, Ratnagiri,” said Balekar, whose family is from Jaigad village in Ratnagiri. “We were anticipating their arrival until we received a call around 7 am from relatives from the village who told us that their bus could have been on the bridge when it collapsed.”
At least 29 people are missing since two buses and about 10 private vehicles fell into the river after the British-era bridge was washed away near Mahad.
The bridge collapsed around midnight on Tuesday, and 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.
Sunil said for the next 12-13 hours, the family made frantic calls on disaster helplines that flashed on various TV news channels but a voice on the other end only said that rescue operations were on and that they were not found yet.
Sunil and Snehal are residents of Girgaum while Dipali stayed at Vakola, Santacruz. According to Sunil, Anish had come to Mumbai only a year ago and is a student at a municipal school at Prabhat Colony.
Also missing is Avinash Malap, 40, hailing from the same village, who was accompanying the family on their way back to Mumbai.
“We have a joint family with 15 people living in different parts of Mumbai. Everyone has gathered at Vile Parle and is very worried. Every time the phone rings, the whole house falls silent and I rush to answer the phone only to hear the same questions being asked about whether they have been traced,” said Sunil, adding he had returned from his village just 10 days back. “It is unimaginable that the bridge would collapse, considering that there was hardly any rain at the time.”
Relatives of some feared victims did not wasted no time and rushed to the spot. Resident of Tardeo, Sunil Katkar, 43, said he had heard from his elder brother, Mangesh, 60, last at 8:30pm on Tuesday after he boarded a bus for Mumbai from Chiplun.
“His (Mangesh) phone has been unreachable since Wednesday morning,” said Katkar. “My family members and I reached Mahad by afternoon but still got no information about him. We are in constant touch with rescuers and hope that he is safe.”
Another resident of Chiplun village, Sushant Mohite said his friend Ramesh Kadam, who was travelling via a Mumbai-bound Tavera taxi is missing. “Officials carrying out rescue operations have told us that a Tavera is missing, we hope that it was not his,” said Mohite from Mahad. The driver of the taxi, Gorakhnath Munde, who is from Mulund, is also missing.