Mahalaxmi Express: Rescue operation saves all 1,050 from stranded train

A diverse team of disaster response forces, defence personnel, police and local administration worked in clock precision to rescue 1,050 passengers after the train they were travelling in got stranded in the early hours of Saturday due to floods in Thane district.

The nine-hour operation, closely monitored by Union home minister Amit Shah, started after the Mumbai-Kolhapur Mahalaxmi Express stopped between Vangani and Badlapur due to flooded tracks, said officials. The area has been hit by torrential downpours in the past two days, causing the Ulhas river to overflow.

The first message from the Central Railway went to the Maharashtra state control room at 5.25 am, triggering a massive show of coordination and teamwork between the National Disaster Response Force, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force and state authorities, bringing back the memories of missions carried out in flood-ravaged Kerala last year.

Two military helicopters and six boats of the NDRF were pressed into action as officials used the social media to release timely updates. The rescued passengers were moved to Kalyan by road, provided food and shelter, said officials.

After a little over nine hours, a special 19-coach train left from Kalyan to Kolhapur with the affected passengers.

The Mahalaxmi Express left Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus at 8.32 pm on Friday. It reached Kalyan at 9.37pm.

As it crawled ahead amid extremely heavy rains, things went wrong in a hurry.

It had rained so much that the rail lines and everything around it were flooded. The problem started intensifying after 11 pm when the railway authorities realised that heavy rains were hitting the Kalyan-Karjat belt, said officials. Nearly four hours later, they sent the alert to the state government.

As the day broke, passengers started posting videos and tweets. Around 8 am, the first rescue team reached the spot, while NDRF joined the operation at 9.43 am. NDRF Director General SN Pradhan said their primary focus was women and children – there were nine pregnant women on board. They then began rescuing the elderly before moving on to male passengers.

The Central Railway appealed to the passengers not to get out of the train on their own as it could prove to be risky. “Our request to passengers of the Mahalaxmi Express, please don’t get down from the train. The train is a safe place. The staff, Railway Protection Force and the City Police are in the train to look after your wellbeing. Please wait for advice from the NDRF and other disaster management authorities,” appealed Sunil Udasi, chief spokesperson of the Central Railway.

Rajendra Keswani, one of those stuck in the train, through a video message, requested the authorities to step up the operation, saying the water level was rising. Another passenger, Pragnya, who was accompanied by an infant, urged a quick supply of food and water.

A passenger, whose identity could not be ascertained, posted a video saying, “It appears to be a flood-like situation outside, and a snake has come into the bogie. We appeal to the authorities to rescue us.” The RPF and the police delivered food packets to the passengers.

Sources said Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis asked chief secretary Ajoy Mehta to personally supervise the rescue. Similarly, union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai assured all assistance from the Centre.

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