Raigad (Maharashtra), Aug 3 (IANS) At least two buses with about 22 passengers were washed away early on Wednesday in flood waters after a bridge collapse on the Mumbai-Goa Highway, an official said.
The state government, National Disaster Response Force, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) launched a massive air and sea operation to trace the two Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation buses and other five to six missing vehicles which were feared to have been washed away by the floods in the Arabian Sea in the coastal Konkan region.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, ministers and Raigad collector Sheetal Ugale were monitoring the situation, the official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Fadnavis and offered help in the rescue operations.
The ICG deployed a Chetak and SeaKing helicopters to search the buses. An NDRF team was on way from Pune while the police and naval divers have launched a sea search.
Of the two ill-fated buses, the Jaigad-Mumbai service was driven by S. S. Kamble and conducted by V. K. Desai while the Rajapur-Borivali (north Mumbai) service was driven by E. S. Munde and conducted by P. B. Shirke, all based with the Chiplun Bus Depot in Ratnagiri.
The tragedy struck after heavy rains flooded the Savitri River which originates in Mahabaleshwar and flows through Ratnagiri-Raigad districts, leading to the collapse of a seven-decades old British era bridge near Mahad around 1 a.m.
The buses with 11 passengers each went missing and there was no contact with either their drivers or the passengers, Raigad Collector Sheetal Ugale said.
Locals said that around five to six private vehicles were also missing and they were feared to be washed away in the floods.
“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 the missing vehicles.
Incessant rains continue to lash the coastal Konkan, northern and western Maharashtra since past five days, with at least 10 persons losing their lives in rain-related incidents in the past 24 hours.