Mahalaxmi Express rescue: Trapped for 17 hours, but they held on to hope
Mumbai, July 27: As the skies opened up in Vangani in neighbouring Thane on Friday, little did over a thousand passengers on the Mumbai-Kolhapur Mahalaxmi Express know that the experience that was to follow would possibly be etched in their memories for a long time to come.
The train was marooned for almost 17 hours, with those inside, including nine pregnant women, fearing that the water level would rise and flow into the rake through the windows before help came in. It had left Mumbai late Friday night and got marooned near Vangani in the early hours of Saturday. The lights had gone out in the train, and helplessness among passengers was underlined by lack of communication from all quarters, including the railways, as cell phones had gone dead due to drained batteries or defunct due to poor network.
By the time joint teams of the NDRF, Army, Navy, Air Force and the railways managed to rescue all the 1,050 passengers inside the train around 3pm on Saturday, several of them had just about reached their limits of endurance. Many were rescued on the inflatable boats of the NDRF, others on shoulders of the personnel deployed and still others by wading across the flood. Coach B-1 had its own share of drama as a passenger, Reshma Kamble, was in advanced stage of pregnancy.
Her co-passengers soothed her nerves, kept the spirit up in the coach to ensure hope within the train stayed above the rising water levels. She was rescued by a team of local police and nurses from a nearby government hospital. Another passenger Madhvi, a script-writer, said what stood out was the hope among every stranded that everything would be fine at the end of it all.
"Though the situations were very adverse, we never quit hoping, and kept our faith in God," she said, Another rescued passenger was the cynosure of all eyes as he cradled his towel-wrapped one-and-half month baby in his arms.
Looking around as rescue personnel went about helping passengers off the train, he said they, along with local residents, were "angels sent by God". As the train looked like a blue-and-silver snake stalled in a sea of water, the phrase "between a hard place and a rock" played in the head of passenger Vishwajeet Bhosale. In a video message, Bhosale said, "There was river on one side and a hill on the other side of the train. The whole situation was very scary."
Some of the passengers suggested that the railways improve its emergency communication system so that those stranded get live updates to mitigate the haplessness. "When I dialled 100 (the police helpline), I was told it was matter concerning the railways. I was shocked to hear such a response, that too from the police," a student in the train said. "When the train got marooned, all we could see was water all around.
But our fear kept rising because we had no clue what was going around. That helplessness was the most agonising part of this ordeal. When you know you are in life-threatening trouble but you do not know if help is on its way, the despair just increases manifold," said another rescued passenger.
He said the train had got stranded at Badlapur station itself around midnight, but lack of communication from railway authorities meant people did not know what lay ahead. "If we were told at Badlapur itself that the tracks are flooded, we would have alighted and cancelled our trip," he said.