Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Images of desperation that will be seared in our memories. Of people driven by flames and panic to leap off a multi-storied building on Bangalore's Old Airport Road. Tuesday's blaze left at least nine people dead, from asphyxiation or injuries from jumping off ledges, and more than 60 injured.
Eyewitnesses said nearly five or six people jumped out of windows as smoke enveloped the seven-storey building just after 3.15pm. Though fire personnel reached the spot quickly, it was difficult to rescue people trapped on the top floor. Many persons on the road as well as people living in the neighbourhood rushed into the building to rescue the trapped people.
Home minister V S Acharya said the fire had been extinguished by 8pm and the building completely cleared after a massive operation involving nearly 100 fire personnel, including 20 officers, and 15 fire tenders.
Smoke from the cable ducts of the building surrounded the building which houses over 30 to 40 offices. Though the fire is said to have started on the second floor, there were conflicting versions about where exactly the fire broke out.
Soon, there was paralyzing panic among people in the building which led to chaos. While several people starting running towards the exits, most said they could not get out of their offices due to thick smoke. While people from the first and second floor jumped out of the windows, many from the sixth and seventh floors locked themselves in their offices, afraid of the choking smoke.
Some rescuers said they couldn't go in because they didn't have masks. Cops also rushed in but couldn't go past the fourth floor. Fire personnel tried to put huge pile of mats or mattresses to break the fall of people jumping out. Many persons clung to windows trying not to inhale the smoke.
Sunil, a student who was walking home, rushed into the building. Later, he was seen completely drenched in water but rescued many people. N Manjunath, a sub-inspector attached to the Mahadevapura police station along with some people finally managed to make their way to the fourth floor but the emergency exit had been closed. Manjunath forcibly opened the door and rescued four persons. Eyewitnesses said over 150 people were trapped on the sixth and seventh floor. Several escaped to the upper floor but most stayed in their office rooms.
While there were several people trapped on the seventh floor, nearly 10 including two women were seen trying to inhale fresh air avoiding the smoke. Even as they were trying to breathe, several people outside on the ground used a PA system asking them not to lose hope. Many enterprising people even started writing placards which read 'Break Glass' in bold letters and held them up. Soon the huge crowd was urging them to break the glass windows so that the smoke could find a way out.
Fire personnel reached the terrace and rescued people and rushed them to the hospital in ambulances. Fire
tenders too were stuck in the traffic jam and the police had to allow traffic on both roads towards airport to allow fire tenders reach the spot. Ambulances had to navigate a sea of people on the road and flyover. Traffic movement was affected from 3.30pm till 7.30pm.