Exits few,‘secure’ sixth floor turns deathtrap

The all-important sixth floor of Mantralaya that houses offices of the chief minister,deputy chief minister and the general administration department,turned a deathtrap for the five who died in the fire on Thursday.

Written by Sharvari Patwa | Mumbai | Published:June 23, 2012 4:28 am

The all-important sixth floor of Mantralaya that houses offices of the chief minister,deputy chief minister and the general administration department,turned a deathtrap for the five who died in the fire on Thursday. From the accounts of those leaving the sixth floor minutes after smoke was detected and firemen who retrieved the charred bodies,it appears that some of the victims may have thought it was safer to stay inside the secluded chambers,a decision that proved fatal.

While more than 25 people were rescued from the same floor,NCP leaders from Baramati,Umesh Lakshman Kotekar (38) and Mahesh Santosh Gugle (44) were found in a cabin near Deputy CM’s ante chamber around 9 pm on Thursday,more than six hours after the fire broke out. Deputy Chief Fire Officer H Nesrikar who was among the group of firemen who found the bodies,said,“One person was in a separate cabin,perhaps trying to save himself. Another was possibly trying to find an exit through a window,but he may have suffocated to death. Part of the ceiling appeared to have collapsed on him too. Both were buried under the debris .”

NCP worker from Nagpur Atul Londhe (38),was in Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s office when the fire broke out. He was with Umesh Potekar and Mahesh Gugle. Recounting his experience,Londhe said they realised there was a fire after smoke began entering the room. He said they were waiting for Pawar to finish his meeting and talk to them. Potekar and Gugle were seated in the ante-chamber when the fire broke out. As Londhe left the room,he said he asked both to leave with him but they refused,feeling scared and safer in the room.

“I managed to leave the room and went to the adjoining,larger meeting room. When I left,I tried to tell them to leave but they refused. Within minutes there was so much black smoke that there was no way they could have gotten out,” said Londhe. Over 70 people were rescued from the building. “We were only able to rescue those who were rushing toward the window and trying to come out through the ladder. All those who were either stuck inside or were at the far end of the floor could not be rescued,” admitted a fire official.

A Mantralaya employee posted in the CMO said it took him 25-30 minutes to make his way down the stairs,unable to see in which direction the stairs were .

After almost 12 hours of fire-fighting and cooling operations,fire officials found a third body on the sixth floor on Friday morning. Fire officials said the victim,identified as Shivaji Korde (42) of Akola,was a visitor and didn’t know where to go. He too was waiting to meet the Deputy CM.

Though firemen could access some cabins near the windows to recover the bodies,it was only around 10 am on Friday that they found two more bodies,those of Tukaram More and Mohan More,in a chamber near the CM’s office. “The bodies had been burnt completely. We had been looking for these two persons since Thursday night,but it was only in the day-light that we could see parts of their bodies,” said a fire official. Tukaram More (60) had just retired from government service and was visiting his former colleague,Mohan More (55),a Class IV employee at the CMO. More is remembered by everybody for his smiling face in his ceremonial uniform.

Another CMO staffer said Mohan was about to leave when he decided to check on the CM’s office. With thick smoke having engulfed the area as they exited,they stepped into a nearby room and locked themselves in. “A sipaahi from the dispatch section got a call from Mohan around 3.30 pm,he was pleading for help and said he was in a room near the CMO,” said the staffer. With phone networks clogged,no more calls were possible. “That part of the office is more secure and has less exits. It is likely that they didn’t find an exit,” said a fire official.

(with inputs from Swatee Kher)

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