SRINAGAR: Flight operations at Mumbai airport were suspended for an hour on Monday and local trains were delayed amid unseasonal rains, accompanied by a dust storm.

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A 100-foot tall illegal billboard fell on a petrol pump at the Cheddanagar Junction in Ghatkopar area, killing at least three persons and injuring 59 others, even as a search and rescue operation is going on.

In another rain-related incident, an under-construction metal parking tower collapsed on a road amid gusty wind in Wadala area, injuring three persons and damaging vehicles.

As many as 15 flights were diverted to different airports and the runways operation resumed at 5.03 pm, the airport operator said.

“Due to the inclement weather and dust storms in the city, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) temporarily suspended flight operations for around 66 min due to low visibility and gusty winds,” it said in a statement.

Till the operations resumed, the airport witnessed 15 diversions, the statement said. Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde visited the spot of the hoarding collapse incident in Ghatkopar late in the evening.

A senior civic official said an NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) team has reached the spot where the hoarding collapsed and a search and rescue operation is underway.

“Machinery including cranes for lifting the hoarding and gas cutters has arrived at the spot,” the official said. “As many as 100 people are feared trapped under the hoarding. 62 people have been pulled out so far, of which three are dead, while 59 others are injured and rushed to separate hospitals,” the official said.

Mumbai Police tweeted in the evening: “Today, on 13/05/2024, around 16:30, a sudden storm and heavy rain led to a devastating incident. A metal girder from a billboard, sized 70/50 meters, collapsed at the Railway Petrol Pump, Samta Colony, Ghatkopar (E), injuring 37 people.

“Approximately 50-60 individuals are still believed to be trapped. Our officials, alongside the Fire Brigade, @mybmc, and Mahanagar Gas Ltd, are on-site conducting a search and rescue operation”.

Speaking to media persons after visiting the disaster control room at the civic headquarters, Mumbai Municipal Corporation commissioner Bhushan Gagrani said the hoarding was illegal as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had not given permission (for erecting it).

“It was an illegal hoarding. The location where the incident occurred has four hoardings set up on the railway land and one of them has collapsed. The BMC had been objecting to (setting up) hoardings for one year,” the civic chief said.

He said the civic body would issue a notice for immediate removal of the hoarding and lodge a criminal complaint against the landholding authority and the owner of the billboard.

“The Railways has permitted to erect the hoarding,” Gagrani claimed. According to BMC officials, the hoarding measuring 120 x 120 feet crashed on the petrol pump at around 4:30 pm. An official said the civic body doesn’t permit any hoarding measuring above 40 x 40 feet.

He said the Mumbai civic body lodged an FIR on May 19, 2023, in connection with the poisoning of eight trees at the location near Chheda Nagar junction to increase the visibility of the concerned hoarding. “We had repeatedly raised the issue for action,” he claimed and added that the Licence Department of the BMC had also issued a notice.

A police official said out of the three persons injured in the metal tower collapse incident at Pooja Junction in Wadala, one was admitted to a private hospital and two others in the civic-run Sion Hospital.

The collapsed metal structure is being removed with gas cutters and it will take time,” he said, adding that vehicular traffic in the area is diverted and police are deployed at the spot.

An inquiry is being conducted and appropriate legal action will be taken, the official said. While the rainfall brought relief to the residents of Mumbai and its adjoining area from the heat, the sudden change in weather brought traffic to a standstill as commuters took shelter during the storm.

“Mumbai, we understand your high ‘spirit’ for the first rain, but we recommend not storming into any irresponsible plans for the day ! Stay safe and avoid any ‘pour’ decisions on the roads today,” Mumbai Police tweeted.

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