At least two persons drowned and 20 others went missing as two buses were swept away in the swollen Savitri River after a British-era bridge collapsed on the Mumbai-Goa Highway near Mahad in westeren Indian state Maharashtra's Raigad district late last night.
Rescuers fished out the bodies of two men from the river, and an intense search is on to trace those missing, Raigad district collector Sheetal Ugale said at the mishap spot, 170 kilometres from Mumbai.
Teams of disaster management forces have joined the coast guard and other agencies engaged in rescue and relief operations.
Two state transport buses with 18 passengers and four crew members had gone missing in the Mahad tragedy, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said in a tweet.
'Flooding triggered collapse'
Fadnavis, who is monitoring the situation, said, "There were two parallel bridges; one is a new bridge and one constructed during the British era. The old one collapsed."
"The primary reason seems to be the high pressure caused due to flooding of river Savitri due to heavy rains in catchment of Mahabaleshwar," he said. "Spoke to Raigad SP and Collector about bridge collapse on Mumbai-Goa Highway. Administration has rushed to spot for rescue and immediate measures," Fadnavis said.
"Traffic on highway is stopped. Administration is ascertaining strength and stability of new bridge," he tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Fadnavis and was briefed about the bridge collapse. "The PM offered all help in rescue and relief operations," Fadnavis said.
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams are already activated, he tweeted. The Coast Guard has deployed a Chetak helicopter to carry out search for people who were swept away from the bridge. Soon after the incident, Raigad superintendent of police (SP) Suvez Haque and Collector visited the spot where the bridge once stood. Darkness had hampered operations, which resumed this morning.
According to a defence spokesperson, the coast guard deployed a Chetak helicopter at about 8:15 am to carry out a search for people, while a Seaking 42B helicopter on another mission was also diverted to help search the area. In addition, the navy launched a Seaking 42C all-weather aircraft with a diving team.
Govenor expresses concern
Maharashtra governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao has expressed grief over the loss of life caused by the bridge collapse. The governor expressed concern over the fate of the missing persons, who boarded the state transport buses and other vehicles that have gone missing in the flood.
"My heart goes out to the persons who were on board the two buses and other vehicles that have gone missing in the Savitri river in Mahad. I offer my condolences to the kin of those who lost their lives and pray for the safe rescue of those who are missing," he said in a message.