Around 600 passengers were stranded after the long-distance train Mahalaxmi Express was stalled near Badlapur in Thane as the railway tracks were flooded due to incessant heavy rainfall. The passengers were stranded for over 15 hours and following an SOS from the Maharashtra government, the Indian Air Force, Navy, Army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) launched a massive aerial and surface operation to rescue the passengers.
At least two helicopters, including a Seaking and a MI17, with relief material and personnel were despatched from Mumbai to the site. Teams of the NDRF reached the train from Badlapur, around 7 kms away in inflatable rubber boats and started extracting the passengers from the train, which had left Mumbai for Kolhapur on Friday around 8 p.m.
The teams, which included divers with special equipment and medical aid, managed to rescue around 600 passengers, including women, children and toddlers, by 2 pm on Saturday, though work was hampered due to continuing heavy rain. Officials said it may take several hours to complete the rescue operation depending on the rain and the flood waters.
The IAF and NDRF teams also brought to safety a group of around seven passengers, who got down from the train to start walking towards Badlapur station but found themselves stuck in the swirling flood waters, running between 3-6 feet, for over two hours until some local villagers threw ropes at them. IANS reports that a nine-month pregnant woman went into labour in the stranded train and that there are some other women on board in different stages of pregnancy who are in distress and awaiting help.
#MahalaxmiExpress SITUATIONâ€” Ñ•Î±tÑ‡Î± n prÎ±dhÎ±n, dÃrÑ”ctÏƒr gÑ”nÑ”rÎ±l,ndrf (@satyaprad1) July 27, 2019
More than 150 passengers - especially women & children first - evacuated to nearest village & safety - #TEAMNDRFINDIA wonâ€™t rest till evacuation of all passengers to safety #COMMITTED2HELP@HMOIndia @PMOIndia @NDRFHQ @ndmaindia @CMOMaharashtra pic.twitter.com/l5k8fM6eAG
Torrential rain since the past three days in Mumbai, Palghar, Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri, and in some areas over 100 mm, have led to chaos on the roads, partially hitting rail operations and affecting around two dozen flights at the Mumbai Airport in the past 24 hours.
On Saturday, Guardian Minister for Thane Eknath Gaikwad said two helicopters were despatched for the rescue operation, along with eight NDRF teams on the ground from Mumbai, Thane and Pune which were rushed there with inflatable rubber boats and other equipment.
#WATCH Maharashtra: Mahalaxmi Express held up between Badlapur and Wangani with around 2000 passengers. Railway Protection Force & City police have reached the site where the train is held up. NDRF team to reach the spot soon. pic.twitter.com/0fkTUm6ps9â€” ANI (@ANI) July 27, 2019
The government response came after hundreds of panicking, starving and thirsting passengers on the Mumbai-Kolhapur train started sending out videos appealing for help on the social media videos as the water levels continued to rise around the train. They said they had no drinking water or food since nearly 15 hours and no escape route as the train was practically cut off with five-six feet water on all sides.
God! This is how badly the Mahalaxmi Express train is stranded with about 2000 passengers inside between Badlapur and Vangni near Mumbai. NDRF and CR teams to the rescue @mid_day @RailMinIndia pic.twitter.com/Gjyu0D1dmfâ€” Rajendra B. Aklekar (@rajtoday) July 27, 2019
The towns of Badlapur, Ulhasnagar, Vangani were practically underwater since early today as heavy rain lashed the region, flooding local rivers and other water bodies.
The Central Railway (CR) warned the Mahalaxmi Express passengers against stepping out of the trains in view of the dangerous water levels outside and requested them to wait for help which was on the way.
Our request to passengers of Mahalaxmi Express, please don't get down from train. Train is the safe place. Staff, RPF and City Police is in train to look after your well being. Please wait for advice from NDRF and other disaster management authoritiesâ€” Central Railway (@Central_Railway) July 27, 2019
The CR 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.
While the city's lifeline, the suburban trains in Mumbai 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 and rain, the worst-hit were Thane and Ratnagiri with towns of Ulhasnagar, Murbad, Badlapur, Tiwala, Vangani, Khed, Chiplun and surroundings practically submerged.
In Mumbai, Minister of Education Ashish Shelar authorised school and college principals to declare a holiday to ensure students are not inconvenienced if heavy rain continued.