THANE: Around 600 passengers, including nine pregnant women, were rescued till 2 pm from the Mahalaxmi Express which remains stranded in heavy flood waters near Vangani, around 90 km from Mumbai, officials said here on Saturday.
Other passengers who are still on board are being evacuated by rescue teams in what is now the biggest joint operation in the state by the Indian Air Force, Army, Navy, NDRF, Maharashtra Police, local agencies and volunteers since the great floods of July 26, 2005.
The rescue operation picked up after rain subsided a little post-noon, enabling quicker movement of personnel and the evacuated passengers.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis instructed Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta to personally monitor the evacuation operations and coordinate with various agencies engaged in the rescue works.
So far, four National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have reached the train and evacuating the train passengers using eight inflatable rubber boats.
Besides, seven Indian Navy teams of divers with specialised equipment, two helicopters of the IAF, including a Seaking and MI17, two columns of Indian Army from Mumbai have already gone to Thane and two more are en route, for the massive operations.
Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai called up Fadnavis and offered all help from the Centre for the train passengers.
Additionally, a fleet of ambulances with three dozen doctors including gynecologists, paramedics are deployed at Badlapur to tackle any emergency, 14 buses and three tempos also kept ready to move the passengers to onward safer locations.
The district administration has 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.
Many weary passengers who were saved tried to walk, but when they lost strength, especially the senior citizens, police and others promptly hoisted them on their shoulders and took them to safer locations.
A few local villagers, many of whom were also stranded in the flood waters, nevertheless ventured out to help the train passengers early today before the official rescue teams from Mumbai, Thane and Pune reached the venue.
A Central Railway (CR) official said that after all the passengers are rescued and taken safely to Badlapur, the authorities will decide on where to send them from there, and also how to shift the train and clear the tracks for train traffic on that route.
The official added that a relief train has been stationed at Badlapur to ferry the passengers, along with food, water and medical supplies, besides making arrangements to take the passengers onward to Kolhapur.
As rain continued to lash the coastal districts, many towns were practically underwater since early on Saturday as flooding local rivers and other water bodies overflowed into residential areas. — IANS