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Thursday, May 26, 2022

A choked exit, rooms full of smoke, and windows that wouldn’t break – survivors recall Mundka fire horror

They recalled they first started to panic when electricity in the building was cut-off, and as people tried to make their way downstairs from the only exit, they noticed smoke coming from the bottom.

Written by Pavneet Singh Chadha | New Delhi |
Updated: May 15, 2022 7:47:30 am
From using tables to break window panes to fashioning makeshift ropes, many said it was a miracle they survived. (Express Photo)

Trapped in a room full of smoke. That’s the haunting memory many survivors recalled a day after the Mundka fire.

From using tables to break window panes to fashioning makeshift ropes, many said it was a miracle they survived.

They recalled they first started to panic when electricity in the building was cut-off, and as people tried to make their way downstairs from the only exit, they noticed smoke coming from the bottom.

“The fire had spread to the upper floor, where over 100-125 people had gathered for a motivational seminar. There was total chaos. We couldn’t see much due to the smoke. It was difficult to breathe. The first instinct was to break window panes using the table and try to jump to safety. Some locals arranged for a rope and a JCB from a nearby crane market. Jo nikal paaya, woh bach gya,” said Manish Lakra, a technician working in the CCTV and WiFi assembly unit. Lakra suffered injuries on both hands as he jumped from the first floor after grappling down a rope.

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Preeti’s (19) hands were also burnt while escaping the building: “Some tried to take the only exit from the staircase, but returned as fire had spread. Some people started crying and made frantic phone calls to families and the police and fire department. Someone yelled, ‘I am going to die’. We tried breaking the glass windows but it was not easy. It took 10 minutes. Others, in panic, tried to remove an AC to find an opening to escape.”

Many, though, could not make it out. “There is a certain guilt… that I could not help others. We do not even know if they made it out alive. We are constantly checking media reports to find out who all died,” said Priyanka.

Some survivors said the fire tenders arrived late. “We had been calling fire and police departments since 3.30 pm, but help arrived by 5 pm,” said Saahil Prajapati, 23, the stock manager, who was among the first to be rescued. “I lost count of how many people we rescued with the help of locals. Many died in front of me. I am still trying to process the tragedy.”

Atul Garg, the Delhi Fire Services chief, denied the allegations, saying fire services received a call at 4.40 pm and the first fire tender reached at 4.50 pm. “There was no delay in the firefighting operation. We reached as soon as we could. Seeing the situation, we sent more fire tenders but they arrived late because of the traffic.”

Outside the building on Saturday, many survivors stood anxiously on a road divider for hours, as NDRF and firefighters continued search operations. Colleagues enquired about their friends from officials and locals.

“Mona tu nikal gayi (Mona, you got out),” said Ritika, as soon as she saw her colleague. Both embraced each other before breaking down. “Drishti nahi nikal paayi aur Sonal ka kuch nahi pata (Drishti could not escape and Sonal is missing),” Mona said. Drishti was among the dead who was identified on Saturday.

Three women – Ayesha (24), Kajal (19) and Banwati (18) – from Bhagya Vihar, all of whom suffered injuries on arms and legs, waded through the chaos, repeatedly asking locals for help in identifying their colleagues and relatives.

Ayesha said, “My niece Mahi is missing. Her parents are making rounds of hospitals and mortuaries to find her. I came here in hope.”

Kajal said, “My three school friends, who worked with me, are nowhere to be found. I saw they were stuck as I was climbing down a rope to escape.”

Poonam said that she had taken two days leave as she was feeling unwell. “I was lucky to survive, but one of my relatives, Yashoda, is missing. She was in the seminar. My family saw the news and assumed that I was also stuck in the building,” she said.

Survivors said that locals also arranged for a crane, a makeshift rope, some ladders, and a mattress to help people make their way down. “If not for their assistance, the death toll could have been higher,” said Prajapati.

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