Over 1,000 passengers, including nine pregnant women, on the Mahalaxmi Express which was stranded for nearly 18 hours in heavy flood waters, around 90 km from Mumbai, were rescued in a massive, multi-agency operations by Saturday afternoon, officials said.
Central Railway Chief spokesperson Sunil Udasi said 1,050 passengers were safely evacuated without injuries from the train, which was stuck near Vangani, while the State Disaster Authority pegged the figure at 1,200, in what became the biggest joint operation in the state by the Indian Air Force, Army, Navy, the NDRF, state police, the Railway Police, local agencies, NGOs and volunteers since the July 26, 2005 floods.
Four National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams from different cities like Mumbai, Thane and Pune rushed to the train and evacuating the train passengers using eight inflatable rubber boats.
Besides, seven Indian Navy teams of divers with specialised equipment, a Seaking and MI-17 helicopters of the IAF, and two columns of Indian Army from Mumbai already in Thane and two more en route, were also deployed for the massive operations. Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai called up Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and offered all help from the Centre.
The rescue operation picked up pace post-noon when rain subsided a little, enabling quicker movement of personnel and the evacuated passengers carrying their luggage and minor children to safer spots.
Many weary passengers attempted to walk, but when they, especially the senior citizens, lost strength, police and other rescuers promptly hoisted them on their shoulders and took them to safety.
A few local villagers, many of whom were also stranded in the flood waters, also ventured out to help the train passengers early in the day before the official rescue teams from Mumbai, Thane and Pune reached the venue.
The passengers were brought off the train into boats and taken to a small village around 1.5 km away where the villagers welcomed them with water, hot tea and biscuits and even carried their luggage and the kids.
From there the passengers boarded buses, tempos and smaller vehicles to go to Badlapur, seven km away. A fleet of ambulances with three dozen doctors including gynaecologists were deployed there to tackle any emergency.
Nine-month pregnant, Reshma T. Kamble, who went into labour, was shifted to the Shushrut Hospital in Badlapur where she is now under observation.
The Central Railway then ferried the rescued passengers by a local train to Kalyan where a 19-coach special train was kept ready to take them to Kolhapur, famed for its Goddess Mahalaxmi Temple. A railway official also said that the authorities were also ready to take those passengers who so wanted back home to various destinations in Mumbai.
A group of senior citizens, who were proceeding on a pilgrimage to Kolhapur, decided to cancel their plans and return to Mumbai.
“We are very thankful to all the rescue agencies and the villagers who took great pains to help and rescue us. Now, we are very tired by this ordeal and will complete our pilgrimage later,” one of them told media persons.
Fadnavis had instructed Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta to personally monitor the evacuation operations and coordinate with various agencies engaged in the rescue works.
The Chief Minister also said that the district administration had made arrangement for meals, tea and fresh water at the Sahyadri Mangal Karyalaya and other locations in villages on the route between the stranded train and Badlapur.
Meanwhile, the CR also said that it would also decide later how to shift the train and clear the tracks for restoring the train traffic on that route, as water considerably receded by evening and the adjacent railway track was visible first time.
In Thane, around 550 people stranded in the towns of Kalyan, Dombivali, Badlapur and Titwal were also saved from the flood waters by the rescue teams till this evening.
Thane Guardian Minister Eknath Shinde took a boat and went on an inspection tour of the affected areas in Vangani and its surroundings.
Rain continued to lash the coastal districts and many towns were practically underwater since early on Saturday as flooding local rivers and other water bodies overflowed into residential areas.
The busy Mumbai-Goa Highway was blocked this afternoon after a landslide near Khed. There are no immediate reports of any casualties.
Mumbai Airport operations suffered with cancellation of 11 flights and nine diversions early on Saturday, but the situation returned to normal by 9 a.m., official sources said.
While Mumbai’s lifeline, the suburban trains functioned with delays of 15-20 minutes on Western Railway and CR, the latter had to cancel services between Karjat-Kalyan (in Thane) owing to floods and waterlogging on the tracks since Friday.
Though the country’s commercial capital continued to get intermittent showers, the worst-hit were Thane and Ratnagiri with towns of Ulhasnagar, Murbad, Badlapur, Tiwala, Vangani, Khed, Mangaon, Mandangad, Chiplun and surroundings practically submerged.
Heavy rain lashed Palghar, Pune and Nashik on Saturday, with the IMD forecasting similar weather for the next couple of days in the entire coastal regions including Mumbai.