THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: “When the soil fell, it came down in a solid wall. There wasn’t even time to run,” Ajamul, one of 11 men - most of them from West Bengal - who were working nearby, recalled. “We were on the far side, but Harnad, Swapan and Bhajan were standing directly underneath,” he said, his face pale, and his eyes reflecting fear.
Labourers at the construction site in Pangappara near Kazhakoottam were in shock on Monday evening after a freak soil collapse killed four men - three from West Bengal and another man from Vengode in Thiruvananthapuram district, identified as Unnikrishnan.
“We were all working together, all eleven of us. Then the mud fell,” remembers Noorul Hassan, another worker who witnessed the incident. A wide gateway leads to the construction site, the land sloping towards a massive pit where the first floors of a 19-storey apartment complex can be seen.
According to the men, the site employs around 200 labourers. The incident occurred around 3 pm, and the Fire and Rescue Services was alerted by 3.20 pm. Soon, the police and firemen launched a search and rescue operation on the mound of fallen soil with the help of an excavator at the construction site.
Shortly afterwards, Sudarshan, the fifth man caught in the soil collapse, had been rushed to the hospital where he was treated for a fractured leg.
In the next two hours, the bodies of the other four men were recovered and shifted to the medical college mortuary. “I must call home soon. We are all from Cooch Behar in West Bengal. In fact, they lived near my home,” Noorul Hassan said.
Sreekaryam ward councillor Lathakumari said the construction has been in progress at the site for the past one year. “A majority of the workers here are from North Indian states. Till now, nothing untoward has been reported from here, though,” she said.
Safety of houses at stake
The soil collapse at Pangappara that claimed the lives of four men on Monday has raised questions regarding the safety of the houses in the immediate neighbourhood. The houses immediately above the spot where the soil collapsed are in a dangerous condition, especially with the district expecting to receive heavy rainfall in the days ahead.
In the evening, the officers of the Fire and Rescue Services had issued a warning to the occupants of two of the houses. Reportedly, the district administration has asked the occupant of one house to vacate, to be on the safe side. At the construction site, a large quantity of soil has been removed leaving the neighbouring houses on the verge.
Meanwhile, City Police Commissioner Sparjan Kumar said the police have registered a case in connection with the mishap that claimed the lives of three workers from West Bengal and a Keralite from Vengode, Thiruvananthapuram.