Of the over 14 hours that 15-year-old Sanchita Nanavare was buried under the concrete wall that collapsed at Pimpri Pada early on Tuesday morning, most were filled with hope. Hope that the girl whose cries for help were heard by locals and later by rescue workers would be pulled out alive from under the crushing concrete that gave way as the rain showed no mercy on Mumbai on Monday and Tuesday. Hope that an entire neighbourhood devastated by the disaster, rested on a rescue story to lift their spirits at a time when they were engulfed by bad news.
Mumbai Fire Brigade (MFB) workers drilled through the debris to reach Sanchita, who lay face-up under the weight of the wall and her destroyed home. Before the MFB and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) could reach the site, locals had first tried to rescue Sanchita, her mother and sister, all trapped under the wall that collapsed while they were asleep in their home. Her mother’s lifeless body was pulled out earlier.
Vidhichand Saroj, a worker, and Parshuram Gadmal, an autorickshaw driver, were among the first to hear Sanchita from under the debris. “We could hear her voice. She was saying bachao, bachao. She was calling out Mummy, Pappa. That is how we knew she was alive under the wall and needed to be rescued,” said Gadmal.
Saroj said, “We have been here all night. Some of us do civil works. We had a drilling machine. We tried to get her out even before the fire brigade could come but we didn’t have much luck. We were just running to help whoever we could. We dragged people to safety. We ferried some in autorickshaws to the hospital. It was chaos. We were just helping whoever we could.”
As rescue workers took over the operation, volunteers like Saroj and Gadmal moved to the fringes and helped the uniformed men by managing the crowd. Among the onlookers was Sachin Jadhav. He said, “She is holding up. She even asked for water. They are talking to her.” Soon the rescue scene was taken over by MFB officials in navy blue, NDRF workers in orange and Mumbai Police officials in white raincoats over their Khaki uniforms.
After dredging through the concrete for hours, MFB officials found a niche enough for an official to lower himself and hold Sanchita’s head. Chief Fire Officer P S Rahangdale, who supervised the rescue operation a little ahead of noon, spoke to the trapped girl as the drilling continued to free her. “Bass beta, ab ho gaya,” he told her at one time, much before the rescue operation was over. “Kya karti hai? College mein padhti hai,” he asked her.
Rahangdale, sporting a red helmet, directed his men to drill, shovel, loosen the concrete, cut through iron rods, watch out for her limbs with the occasional, “very good” when things seemed to be looking up.
As soon as there was access to the girl, doctors from the 108 ambulance service administered an IV drip after a lady doctor hurriedly pulled off a red wrist watch from the teenager’s left hand. An oxygen mask was next, and doctors took turns to monitor her condition.
Among the hundreds who stood watching, waiting for a miracle, was Sanchita’s uncle Datta Salunke, a driver. “Her mother is my sister. She is trapped under the wall with both her children. I think my sister is dead but at least if one of the two children survives, we will have something to be grateful for,” he said stoically. He added that the girl didn’t know that her father had also died.
As the rain abated and the sun came out, the efforts gathered pace.
The major part of the challenge was to free Sanchita’s right leg caught under the debris, without hurting her with the drill. Past 2 pm, the chatter among the crowd started to die down. The doctors seemed to be struggling to keep Sanchita from slipping away. They pumped her chest repeatedly and as hope faded that she would be rescued alive, anger took its place. “She is gone. What is the use of any of this now?” shouted a man watching the MFB in action. “The girl was alive before all these people came? Why did they take so long? She could have lived,” shouted another.
It was close to 3 pm when the girl in green pyjamas was pulled out, motionless and battered. She was carried into the ambulance and taken to the Kandivali Shatabdi Hospital.
“When we came here first, she had a pulse. We followed all the procedures and administered all the treatment we could. We did our best but unfortunately we could not save her,” said Dr Sadiq Ahmed Qureshi, who was among the team of doctors attending to Sanchita.
With the father and youngest son, aged three, found dead during night, and later mother Rani’s body recovered along with daughter Deepa in afternoon, Sanchita’s death that came after 14 hours wiped the entire five-member family.