In the third building crash in the city in just over a month, 34 people, including a three-year-old girl, were killed when a 117-year-old dilapidated house collapsed in Bhendi Bazaar around 8.30am on Thursday.
Thirteen people had been pulled out alive from the rubble+ till late in the evening and seven residents were still feared trapped. Rescue operations involving the National Disaster Relief Force, the fire brigade and police are continuing. Nineteen people, including six rescue workers, have been admitted to hospital.
The seven-storey Husaini building on Pakmodia Street was home to five families, a playschool on the first floor and two commercial establishments, including a sweet mart, on the ground floor
BMC officials at the spot said the preliminary cause of the crash could be the extremely heavy rains that lashed Mumbai on Tuesday. Residents of two adjacent buildings were asked to move out as a safety measure. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who visited the spot, announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the families of the dead and said the treatment of the injured would be taken care of. “An inquiry has been ordered into the crash by the additional chief secretary, housing,” he added.
By the time the fire brigade could reach, anxious relatives and locals were thronging the area. Even the fire tenders and ambulances found it difficult to move in the chaos.
Police personnel from nearby police stations were called in to maintain law and order; the NDRF was also mobilized. Finally, when rescue operations could begin, the firemen met an unexpected problem. “There was a sweet mart on the ground floor, where cooking had begun in the morning. When we tried removing the debris, smoke engulfed the area, leading us to fight the fire as well as rescue the trapped,” said Chief Fire Officer P Rahangdale, adding that six firemen and NDRF personnel were injured in the rescue operations.
Fire brigade officials said they feared that some of the victims trapped under the rubble were robbed of a fighting chance at survival by the smoke coming from the sweet mart’s kitchen. It even made it impossible to use the sniffer dogs the NDRF had brought to ferret out survivors. The fire brigade is now using camera probes to try and locate the victims.
If the early morning crash spared the playschool children because their classes hadn’t started yet, it also meant that almost entire families were in their homes, preparing perhaps to leave for school, college or work, which meant the casualties were higher. For the Chasmawala family on the fifth floor, only the daughter survived as she was in school. Abbas Chasmawala, who had returned home after dropping her to school, and three other family members died.
Jaffar Sayed, who lived on the second floor, celebrated his 46th birthday on Thursday, along with his wife and two teenaged children. The family had planned a day full of festivities. All were home when the building collapsed. The bodies of the wife and two children were recovered by evening, Jaffar is missing.
The JJ Marg police will first register a case of accidental death. Asked who will be booked for negligence for causing the deaths, a senior police officer said: “It is too early to say whose fault it was.” DCP Manoj Sharma, who was on the spot right from the morning, said they had asked for diversions for Ganesha immersions.
The scene outside the casualty ward of JJ Hospital was heart-wrenching. With every ambulance siren, hopeful relatives would rush to the door hoping it would be one of their loved ones who was still breathing. Their hopes dimmed when between 5pm and 6pm, five bodies were discovered in quick intervals but not a single survivor. Dean Dr T P Lahane said two patients are critical.