It was their worst nightmare come true. And as the darkness closed in,and the dust filled the empty spaces making it difficult to breathe,all that some of the workers trapped below the debris of the four-storey Shital Fabrics factory building in Jalandhar could think of was whether they would ever come out alive.
Naginder,a machine operator,is one of those who lived to tell the story. He crawled out from under the debris,more than 10 hours after the factory collapsed like a pack of cards late on Sunday,trapping hundreds of labourers most of them migrants from Bihar,Jharkhand and UP.
Strong winds began to blow around 11 pm and suddenly the power went off creating a complete blackout. Before any of us could react,the front portion of the building caved in. Soon,other parts collapsed too. We moved towards the main door,but the escape point was blocked with debris, Naginder recounted. The machine operator and three others were trapped on the ground floor of the factory that manufactures fabric for blankets and carpets.
The pillars too caved in. Some of us managed to save our lives by hiding in the blocks created by the fallen pillars. After that there was nothing but screams of pain,cries for help,and dust all around, Naginder said. It was with the help of my cellphones torch that I managed to find a route to come out. I found an iron rod next to me and used it to dig my way out, said Naginder,who suffered a few fractured ribs and a wound on his forehead.
Another survivor,Amarjit Singh,had to sacrifice his leg to save his life. There was no other way. The rescuers tried to pull me out by moving some debris. But the moment a brick was removed,the whole building shook. My foot was stuck under the debris and the rescuers told me they would have to cut my leg to save my life. So I told them to go ahead, Amarjit said. He is recuperating at the local Civil Hospital.
Worker Ramvilas was in the washroom when the building collapsed. It was so sudden,we couldnt even get time to think, Ramvilas recalled.
Meanwhile,state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh expressed grief over the death of labourers. He urged the government to provide adequate compensation to the next of kin and arrange for free medical treatment to the injured.
Army,NDRF,CRPF called in
Four rescue teams of the National Disaster Response Force (state and ITBP units),Punjab Police,Army and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been pressed into service by the district administration to rescue the hundreds of workers trapped under the debris. The disaster is too big to handle and we needed to engage both the Army and NDRF. But the cause of the mishap is yet to be ascertained, said Deputy Commissioner Priyank Bharti. According to sources,over 5,000 workers work across all units of the factory. The rescue process is very slow at the moment … We can see the trapped labourers but are finding it hard to reach them, said NDRF Commandant R K Verma. Intermittent rain was also hampering the operations.