Pancake collapse a rescue challenge

NDRF officials say this leaves little space to conduct rescue operations,extreme caution being exercised

Written by Sharvari Patwa | Mumbai | Published:April 6, 2013 4:08 am

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is equipped and trained to conduct extremely difficult rescue missions,but the nature of Thursday’s building collapse at Mumbra — called pancake collapse — proved to be one of the toughest. In a pancake collapse,floors collapse directly on top of each other like a pack of cards.

“In such a situation,floors begin to pancake down on one another which leaves very less space or void to conduct rescue operations,” said R S Rajesh,Assistant Commandant,NDRF. It becomes very difficult for both the rescuer and the victim to come out of the debris,he added.

“One woman was trapped between a beam and the floor on the ground floor,leaving us no space to even go inside and remove her from the debris. Although we had hi-tech equipment to remove the rubble,we had to ultimately use a hammer and a chisel to dig up the entire ground below her to save her. This took us almost two hours and had to be done with extreme caution,” Rajesh said.

“Our men joined the rescue work at 9 pm Thursday. The nature of fall is unique. As the rubble is intact,it was tough to move them. They had to be sliced one by one and removed,all the time ensuring no further damage was caused to people stuck in the debris. The rubble was cleared floor by floor,” said NDRF commandant Alok Awasthi.

A 90-member NDRF team led by Awasthi rushed from Pune for the rescue operations.

The team used specialised sensors and thermal cameras to locate the victims. The team also used sniffer dogs to locate victims. While it becomes difficult to locate and save victims in such an extreme type of a collapse,there was some hope too,said Rajesh.

As they tried to remove the body of a young woman,they did the routine of checking her pulse and then turning her around. While she had succumbed to the crash,it was the tiny baby she had tried to save under her body that grabbed their attention. “Almost 10 hours had passed after the collapse but the boy was alive and his hearbeat was steady. It felt like the biggest achievement,” said Rajesh.

“This kind of a pancake collapse leaves no cavity for undertaking rescue mission and one has to undertake operations manually despite presence of hi-tech machinery,” said D K Ghosh,fire officer from the Mumbai Fire Brigade. “It was one of the most difficult rescue missions as a fire official,” said P S Rahangdale,who has had more than two decades of experience as a firefighter.

People were also located when they made calls using their cellphone. “There was one guy who rushed to us as his friend had called him from under the rubble. He directed us to come at the spot which made it easier for us to find him through the rubble,” said Rahangdale.

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