Raigad (Maharashtra), Aug 3:
Rescuers have found two bodies even as a massive search was on for the remaining missing passengers of two buses that were washed away early on Wednesday in flood waters after a bridge collapsed on the Mumbai-Goa Highway, authorities said.
The identity of the victims was yet to be ascertained.
A massive search has been launched by the Maharashtra government, National Disaster Response Force, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard (ICG), police, fire brigade and local adventure groups to trace the missing passengers.
The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation buses with 11 passengers on board each went missing and there was no contact with either their drivers or the passengers, Raigad Collector Sheetal Ugale said.
An aerial, terrestrial and maritime search was on to locate the missing buses apart from five to six vehicles that were reported to have been washed away in the floods to the Arabian Sea, around 18 km from the site.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, ministers and Raigad Collector Sheetal Ugale were monitoring the situation, an official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Fadnavis and offered help in the rescue operations, while Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu ordered deployment of railway medical teams and other assistance.
The Indian Coast Guard has deployed three choppers, including a Chetak and two Sea King helicopters, while three specialised NDRF teams joined the police, fire brigade and naval divers in the search.
Of the two buses, the Jaigad-Mumbai service was driven by S.S. Kamble with V.K. Desai as conductor, while the Rajapur-Borivali (north Mumbai) service was driven by E.S. Munde and P.B. Shirke was conductor — all were based with the Chiplun Bus Depot in Ratnagiri.
In the afternoon, Munde’s bag with tiffin box and other articles was recovered a short distance away from the tragedy site.
The tragedy struck after heavy rains flooded the Savitri River which originates in Mahabaleshwar and flows through Ratnagiri-Raigad districts.
The sheer force of the flood waters built up huge pressure on the seven-decade-old British era bridge near Mahad around midnight and it collapsed, with around a dozen piers totally washed out by the gushing waters.
Local eyewitnesses have claimed that around five to six private vehicles were also missing and they were feared to be washed away in the floods, but officials have not yet confirmed it.
“The bridge was built during the British era. After discussion with the National Highways Authority, we have shifted traffic to the new parallel bridge nearby. We are trying to confirm reports of other missing vehicles,” Ugale said.
Rehabilitation Minister Chandrakant Patil said helicopters would be deployed and the help of defence forces was being taken to search for the missing vehicles.
Incessant rains have been lashing the coastal Konkan, northern and western Maharashtra region since the past five days. At least 12 persons have lost their lives in rain-related incidents in the past 24 hours in these regions.
Maharashtra Governor C.V. Rao expressed grief over the incident which has led to the loss of so many lives.
The tragedy echoed in Parliament and the Maharashtra assembly where several opposition leaders, including Congress’s Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Nationalist Congress Party’s Ajit Pawar, lashed out at the government for not shutting down the old bridge though it had exceeded its lifespan.
Stunned by the tragedy, MSRDC Minister Eknath Shinde ordered a structural safety audit of all bridges on the busy Mumbai-Goa highway, especially in view of the 10-day Ganeshotsav next month. (IANS)