Kishore Lokhande (24) was tired on Wednesday evening. “I am going to have dinner now,” he said. Manning the heavy-duty excavator to clear the rubble of the once five-story Tarique Garden in Mahad for 26 hours at a stretch, Lokhande said he had worked without a break as time was running out and there were lives to save.
Working alongside the NDRF and local authorities, trekkers’ groups and local residents assisting in the search and rescue of 19 people who were unaccounted for after the structure caved in on Monday evening, Lokhande said, he was called in from his assignment on the Mahad patch of the Mumbai-Goa highway.
“Somebody would always bring me food or water, but I did not feel like eating or taking a break because I felt that the time could be used to do more work. Now that it is over, I can eat,” he said. The rescue operations, which lasted over 40 hours, concluded Wednesday afternoon as the death toll in the building collapse mounted to 16.
On Tuesday, when the NDRF rescued four-year-old Mohammed Bangi from under a heap of cement and metal, Lokhande said, “I felt so happy when that boy was taken out. Seeing him come out alive gave me strength to go on longer to see if more people could be saved. But my heart would sink every time a body was removed from under the rubble,” Lokhande said.
Dubbed as a ‘hero’ by the locals in Mahad and the district authorities, and lauded for his efforts in the rescue operation, Lokhande, who hails from Patoda in Beed also received appreciation from state Social Justice and Special Assistance Minister Dhananjay Munde who is an MLA from Parali.
In a tweet in Marathi, Mundhe said, “In the rescue operations that went on for 40 hours after the incident, just 24-year-old Kishore Lokhande from our Patoda, taluka Ukhanda, in our Beed district manned the poclain machine for 26 hours straight and saved lives. Kishore, we are very proud of you.”
Lokhande said he has also been congratulated by Beed MP and BJP leader Pritam Munde over the phone.
At home in Patoda, Lokhande said, he lived in a joint family with his parents, brother, his uncle and grandparents. “My family members also called me. They told me focus on the work and not to be afraid,” he said. But it will be a while before he meets his family.
The Class 12 pass. who has six-year experience manning the poclain machine, Lokhande has to return to his job that will keep him in Mahad longer. “If I can ever be of use in saving people’s lives, I hope to be called again,” he said.
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