Blinding rain and a surging Savitri river water have created massive problems in one of the biggest rescue operations seen in the country in recent times.
Four teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), comprising of 40 deep divers each, have joined the army, navy, and the coast guard in rescue operations. “Such is the force of the water that our boats haven’t found a foothold. The efforts to send divers have also failed because of the strong current,” the NDRF commandant, Anupam Shrivastava, said.
The rescue teams are banking on a 300-kg magnet that is being used to detect the vehicles that may have possibly drowned. “We are using the ‘hooking technique’ wherein vehicles can be fished out, and are using a 300-kg magnet. The vehicles could have reached the river bed, and the magnet has been suspended from a telescopic crane,” Shrivastava said.
The driver of one of the buses that fell into a river after a British-era bridge collapsed on the Mumbai-Goa highway in Maharashtra on Tuesday has been found dead.
The body of SS Kamle was found 100 km downstream from the collapsed bridge, apparently washed away in the fast-moving Savitri river. He was identified by his ID badge.
Two state-run buses with 22 people and three cars were swept away when the 50-foot bridge built in the 1940s crashed after days of torrential rain in Mahad, around 170 km from Mumbai. Three bodies have been found and 20 people are missing.
A 300 kg magnet was lowered into the 40-foot deep river to trace the buses. “Something has got stuck to the magnet and efforts are on to pull it out of the river,” a local official told the Press Trust of India.
Teams of rescuers including navy divers have been searching the river using a chopper, aircraft and inflatable dinghies but they have been severely challenged by the strong currents.
The large crowd of people watching the rescue efforts include family members of those missing. A boat carrying National Disaster Response Force personnel capsized this morning. The divers had to be rescued by a chopper.
On Wednesday, even elite marine commandos or MARCOS found the current too strong to risk diving into the river. A lawmaker said in parliament that two years ago, British officials had warned Maharashtra that the bridge is too old and should be closed to public. The brick structure had trees growing on it.
The Maharashtra government, however, declared the bridge safe just two months ago.
Traffic has been diverted to the new parallel bridge. For five days, there has been incessant rain in parts of coastal Konkan, northern and western Maharashtra.