Rescuers battle lack of visibility, a bed of hyacinth in Morbi
Even as hope dimmed of any survivors, rescuers and divers said the presence of water hyacinth and the lack of visibility in the dirty water hobbled their efforts.
Morbi Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the navy swam through the mossy water of the Machchu river on Tuesday and rescue boats crisscrossed the site under a now-mangled heritage bridge in Gujarat’s Morbi town, attempting to pull out the bodies of at least two people missing after the tragedy that claimed 135 lives.
Even as hope dimmed of any survivors, rescuers and divers said the presence of water hyacinth and the lack of visibility in the dirty water hobbled their efforts. “We continue to hunt for two bodies. Our operation will continue through the night,” said Prasanna Kumar, NDRF commandant.
Kumar doesn’t expect any survivors. “We are hoping that the bodies would have bloated in the 24 to 48-hour period and would automatically float up for us to recover,” he said. The NDRF has ordered the rescuers to run their boats in circles at speed to generate churn, hoping the bodies will float up. “The centrifugal force generated by the churning of the water may propel the bodies upward,” he said.
Several of the 25-odd boats pressed into service focused their attention to a 200x100 metre area right under the spot where the 140-year-old bridge collapsed on Sunday evening. The damaged structure was removed using cranes on Monday morning.
“Since the water is stagnant, the chances of the bodies being swept are less. So, the 200x100 metre area is our core area of search. But a few boats are expanding their searches,” said Kumar.
On Monday, Kumar’s team of 12 divers recovered nine bodies, even as scores of locals lined up on the rocky banks of the river. “We have underwater remote operated vehicles, a sonar system to detect corpses inside the water and a drone to observe from the top,” said Kumar.
Using divers for the entire area would have been a humongous task, he said, as the visibility is poor due to mud and dense clumps of weeds. Navy captain S Sreekanth said a weed removal machine was pressed into service. “The weed is also obstructing the visibility and our operations,” said Sreekanth.
The personnel acknowledged that their task would have been much tougher had it not been for the scores of local residents who jumped into the river minutes after the bridge crumbled, pulling out many bodies and steering other helpless victims to safety on the banks. “The locals were effective due to the shallowness of the waters. They were able to save quite some lives and recover many bodies. But now we are working overtime to ensure closure for the last few families in wait,” said Kumar.