Within an hour of the building collapse, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was at the site in Shahberi village, with 70 personnel cautiously digging through rubble for signs of life.
Rescue operations started from the accessible, perpendicular side of the house, and the area beside it was cleared using excavators and dumpers. Two NDRF teams started manual checks near the debris — and found two bodies.
An NDRF official explained: “We cut through the floor and send in a camera with a four-metre stem. It turns 360 degrees and surveys the space, Then, we only cut, dig and drill through the area where the body is located.” Around midnight, two sniffer dogs and cameras procured to detect signs of life couldn’t find anything.
Then, around half past midnight, the NDRF personnel went beyond the edges of the collapsed buildings, and further into the debris. At 1 am, a team readied itself to go on the top of the building that was still partly standing, and police and district administration started to clear the area.
Commandant P K Srivastava said the operation afterwards was done using machines such as a chipping hammer and rotary saw to cut the concrete slabs, as well as hydraulic lifters. “We went layer by layer so any surviving person can be extricated without injury,” he said. The collapse, he said, could be a result of “non-engineered building”, meaning it was not vetted by any structural engineer.
With the operation continuing even 24 hours later, deputy commandant of NDRF, R S Khushwaha, explained: “The manner in which the structures have collapsed has caused what we call a ‘pancake structure’. Pillars have given way and the floors of the structure have collapsed, stacked on each other. Because of that, we are having to work from the top and cut through floors made of concrete and metal.”
The Greater Noida Authorities helped out with a “hydra crane” to lift the debris from the top. Senior officers watched from a distance, flanked by juniors carrying water bottles.
At 2 am, Circle Officer Bisrakh, Awneesh Kumar, directed an official to ready police personnel for a six-hour shift. He said his job was to only coordinate with NDRF and get everything required for the rescue. IG Meerut Ram Kumar, meanwhile, told reporters that action will be taken against offenders.
Around 3 am, a team of six climbed on top of the debris and found two beds and a pair of saris. “There are chances of families stuck inside the debris,” a personnel said through a walkie talkie to his senior. A JCB was called and personnel were asked to move away. But 15 minutes into the operation, no body was found. NDRF personnel started again, with Deputy Commandant Rajkamal shouting orders. Meanwhile, a few exhausted NDRF personnel took a brief nap, lying on the ground, only to get up an hour later.
Throughout the operation, police officers kept asking people to move away from the site.
Around 7 am on Wednesday, the NDRF took a third corpse from the debris, shrouded with a white sheet, to an ambulance which was on standby to carry it to Bhim Rao Ambedkar Hospital in Noida.
For the rest of the day, rescue operations moved slowly and cautiously, with a fourth body being found in the evening and four others at night. As time elapsed, NDRF kept working in the sweltering heat in shifts of 2 hours — searching, cutting and drilling — while the rest performed supporting duties.
The operation was punctuated with questions such as “sir kitna time lag jayega” and “koi zinda milega”. Srivastava’s reply: Only time will tell.