NEW DELHI: Instead of waking up to the rising red sun on a cold Sunday morning, residents of the national capital woke up to thick smoke and trapped voices calling out for desperate help from inside the factory which was ablaze.
Casualty scale stuns hospital
The scale of death and devastation caused by the early morning fire that engulfed a factory in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on December 08 has dumbfounded rescuers and hospital staff who are heroically rising to the occasion.
The fire left 43 people dead while the condition of those injured is not serious and have been kept under observation. Most of the dead were reportedly children in the age group of 14 to 20.
The constant stream of dead bodies and injured being rushed to the hospital is overwhelming for the hospital staff who confessed they never came across a tragedy of such a magnitude.
It was a horrific sight to see so many of them standing at the windows, screaming for help,” said Kafeel, a resident who witnessed the incident in the morning.
Mohammad Abid whose house is located behind the factory said when he woke up around 5:20 in the morning, he heard cries of the people shouting ”Hume Bacha Lo” (Please save us).
Scream and cries
Kin and friends of the victims were seen shuttling between emergency wards and the mortuary in a bid to glean information about their dear ones.
Sounds of wailing haunted the entire area that is reflective of the pain and anger of family members of those who went through the all-engulfing fire this Sunday morning, in Delhi and now battling for life; or worse, families of those who were brought dead with massive burn injuries.
Tales of horror
At one corner of Delhi”s LNJP Hospital”s Emergency ward stood Bhura, a cousin of Musharaff, one of the many dead in the horrific fire. As he opened up, he narrated a story of chaos and confusion that engulfed the bag factory after the deadly fire.
“Musharaff, my cousin called me at 5 a.m. in the morning and told me about the fire. I could sense fear in his voice. It was trembling,” said Bhura slowly.
Bhura wasn”t alone. The hospital”s emergency premise was dotted with such tales of losses.
Sajid and Md. Mohsin were among the approximately 60 people who were deep asleep when the fire broke out. His cousin, who refused to give out his name said, “When the fire broke out, no one had any chance of escaping.”
Mustak Naddaq is a young man standing silently at one corner of the LNJP, under a tree. He considers himself lucky among the lot that has visited the hospital on Sunday. His two relatives – brother Abbas and father-in-law Mustaq are alive, he is told. Both are brought in to the Hospital”s emergency ward and are undergoing treatment.
“Abbas was working in the factory that manufactured caps for over 8 years. He would earn somewhere between Rs nine to ten thousand a month,” he said. Now, he is desperate to meet both of them.
Bhura and Mustaq are complete strangers but on Sunday they were united in a common thread of grief, pain and loss.
Factory lack safety norms
Located within a kilometre from the fire station, the factory lacked all fire safety norms and was in no way qualified for a fire safety test.
The death toll would not have gone up if it had adhered to fire safety norms and constructed in open place, which is mandatory as per factory bylaws, said the official.
“I saw fire officials taking out five men and couldn’t stand longer. It was a depressing sight,” Gulab narrated.
“We reached here at 9:45 a.m. First, we carried out a search and rescue operation. Initially rescuers with self contained breathing apparatus went inside and carried out a search and checked if there is any chemical hazard. Afterwards, we went inside and checked all the floors thoroughly and removed the surface victims,” said a senior National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) official.
While the DFS, NDRF and Police conducted swift operations to rescue the trapped persons, the Centralised Accident and Trauma Services (CATS) with its 26 ambulances deployed for the rescue shifted the victims to the hospital.
Third major fire incident
The scale of human loss and injury is unprecedented since the infamous incidents in the past.
After twenty-two years, this is the third major fire incident in the national capital. On Friday, June 13, 1997, Uphaar Cinema, in Green Park area of Delhi, became the spot for the national capital’s worst fire tragedy, killing 59 people and the Arpit Hotel incident which occurred in February this year.
While the Uphaar fire killed 59 people and injured more than 100, the hotel fire incident claimed at least 17 lives.
FIR against owners
The current plot where the factory is situated is in the name of Rehan.
It is learnt that there was a pulse godown in 600-yard land which was later divided into three parts by the owner Mohammad Rahim among his sons – Rehan, Shan-e-Lahi and Imran.
The police have registered a First Information Report (FIR) against the owners of the factory and some others under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“Two people including the owner of the building – Rehan has been arrested. The case is now transferred to the Crime Branch,” said Anil Mittal, Additional PRO, Delhi Police.