Left homeless by the fire at Patil Estate slums in Shivajinagar, the affected residents, who have taken temporary shelter at a nearby civic school, on Thursday sifted through their destroyed huts, looking for any belongings they could retrieve. Most went back empty-handed and distraught to see their charred houses.
Around 250 houses were damaged in the fire that broke out on Wednesday. No casualties were reported but many residents lost their homes. The fire was first seen in a hut in lane 3 at the slums around 1 pm. It spread to the other lanes as six-seven LPG cylinders exploded.
A day after, most families left homeless returned to the scene, their houses flattened, counting the losses. Sachin Darekar spent the day searching for any belongings and cleaning up the house. “My family is at the civic school. I spent the day sifting through burnt items to see if anything could be retrieved,” he said.
“My six-year-old child was at home when the fire broke out,” said Shabana Sheikh. “We are a family of five. I work as a sweeper. Our house had two floors and my child had just got back from school. He was taking a bath when the fire broke out. Neighbours rescued him.”
“Our house had been newly constructed. I had planned a house-warming ceremony on Thursday but now nothing is left of our house,” said Rajendra Kamble. “I had ordered food for 300 people. My 20-year-old son was at home when the fire broke out. He was decorating the house, putting lights when he heard people shouting. He along with an electrician and three other people tried to fight the fire. The electrician tried to call the fire brigade but was not successful. He then called the police,” he said.
Sareena Noor Mohhamad’s two-floor house too was destroyed. “I lost everything and we have got no help from the government. We only got help from NGOs. The affected families have been provided with only one blanket per family. Eight of us have just one blanket to protect us from the cold. We have no plates or glasses to even store food or water.”
Noor Mohammad Seikh, another resident, said, “Two days ago there was a fire in lane 5 of the slums, which damaged three houses. We all marshalled help and controlled the fire. We are here since morning but no government official has come so far to take stock of the situation. The authorities are yet to send teams to clean the debris. Only NGOs have been helping us. There is no water since morning. We have also lost our ATM cards in the fire and can’t withdraw cash.”
“The PMC said it would only provide tents and bamboos to set up shelters,” said Asha Devi Daskamble, another resident. She said the civic body has refused to rebuild the houses, saying the slum falls on land belonging to the College of Engineering. “We have been living here since 40 years and the PMC is talking about the legal status of the slums,” Daskamble said.
Amol Shinde, relative of an affected family, who was at the scene, said, “We are now cleaning the debris, which would take a few days. Then we will think of how to rebuild it,” he said.
According to the affected families, rebuilding the homes would take a few months and until then they have to stay in temporary shelters. “The PMC opened up three civic schools in the vicinity but the homeless people preferred to stay only at Ambedkar School in the PMC colony in Wakdewadi,” said a civic official. “There are 320 people in the school. A team from the health department has been stationed to provide round-the-clock medical assistance. Food and clothes are being provided by various social organisations,” the official said.
The school has drinking water facility and toilets but, faced with water shortage because of supply cuts by the PMC, civic officials have stationed four tankers on the school premise. The medical team said that no one was injured but children complained of problems arising from inhaling smoke. “We have provided them medicines,” a health official said. An ambulance has also been parked on the premises.
At the school, the affected people sat in groups wherever there was space. Rooms were packed with the affected people and their stray belongings. “We don’t know how many days we would have to stay here,” said a women.