More than 30 people are feared drowned in Raigad’s Savitri river after a bridge on the Mumbai-Goa highway collapsed late Tuesday night, sending several vehicles into the water.
District officials said abnormal rains led to the bridge collapse. According to initial estimates, two Maharashtra State Transport buses carrying 22 people and a private Chevrolet Tavera car carrying nine people are among the missing vehicles.
The bridge was built in 1928 and connected the towns of Mahad and Poladpur. It went crashing into the river at 11.30 pm on Tuesday, police said. A newer bridge next to it, built 10 years ago, is intact.
Both buses, Jaigad-Mumbai and Rajapur-Borivali, had reached Poladpur bus terminus at 11.10 pm on Tuesday and an alarm was raised after they did not reach the Mahad ST stand 20 minutes later.
A Coast Guard helicopter was deployed for aerial reconnaissance at 8.30 am Wednesday, followed by an Mi-17 helicopter of the IAF, a defence spokesperson said. The Indian Navy’s Sea King 42C and 42B helicopters and the Coast Guard’s Chetak helicopters are also part of the search and rescue operations.
On the ground, the Navy’s diving teams have joined some 200 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), but have made no recoveries.
Meanwhile, anxious relatives have been pouring into an empty building converted into a control room by the Tehsildar’s office. An official from the Tehsildar’s office said that so far, names of only five passengers travelling on the two buses have been confirmed.
Among the missing are Girgaon-based couple Sunil Baikar (28) and Sneha Baikar (27), who were returning home from Jaigad. “Sunil had gone to conduct the final rites of our uncle. He told me last night that he would reach home by 3 am,” his younger brother Pramod said. Sunil runs a hardware store in Masjid Bunder.
At the control room, four sons of 67-year-old Ismail Abdul Rehman kept waiting for an update. “My father works as a driver in Mumbai. He had gone to visit relatives in Rajapur,” said one of the sons.
Also on the Rajapur bus was ex-Armyman Balakrishna Varak, a resident of Kandivali. His son Avinash said Varak had gone to meet his parents in Rajapur.
The NDRF has so far searched around 5 km of the river, but without success. “We suspect that one the buses may be in the centre of the river but the current is very strong there. We are not able to deploy our boats or divers; the water keeps throwing everything out. So we have used a local method and sunk heavy iron hooks and magnets into the river, which locals say is 40 feet deep,” said Anupam Shrivastav, Commandant, 5th Battalion NDRF.
Search operations have also been hampered by heavy rain and the fact that rescuers don’t know exactly how many vehicles they are looking for. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Housing Minister Prakash Mehta visited the spot on Wednesday afternoon.
Vehicular traffic to and from Goa has been diverted through interior roads, and traffic on the remaining part of the bridge has been restricted. The operations were called off at dusk and will resume early Thursday morning, said Sanjay Patil, Additional Superintendent of Police, Raigad.
“The National Highways Authority of India will send a larger crane on Wednesday. We will use it to pull the magnet out,” he said.
Two searchlights have been mounted on the remaining part of the bridge and police and NDRF are keeping a watch on the churning water below.