CHENNAI: The response to the collapse of the 11-storeyed building at Moulivakkam, near Porur was rather quick with at least a dozen firefighters and ambulances reaching the spot within 20 minutes of the incident. The traffic on the Kundrathur Main Road, on which the building was located, was immediately blocked to enable free movement of the ambulances but the harder task for the rescuers was in identifying whether any of the people were buried under the debris.
Initially, rescuers struggled with poor and failing light in the evening, but soon gas lamps and arc lights were installed at the spot. The police had a tough time regulating the locals to make way for the ambulances.
The rescue operation gained pace once the National Disaster Response Force reached the spot at 8 pm. The team took over three hours to reach the site, which was blamed on the heavy traffic. The team finally managed to reach the scene after a police vehicle assumed the role of a pilot. The personnel said rescue operations may go on for another two days. “We have to remove each layer of concrete one after the other. Also, we are uncertain about the safety of the adjacent building,” said a personnel.
Besides, they had to use sniffer dogs to trace the persons under the debris. The rescuers were egged on by the locals who, besides helping the fire-fighters, clapped and cheered them everytime a person was pulled out of the rubble.
The crowd fell silent whenever the rescued person was found unconscious. In a few instances, the unconscious person was assumed dead and taken into mortuary vans. But as the persons showed some movement, they were shifted to ambulances for emergency treatment.
The police personnel, fire services and the National Disaster Response Force undertook the task of identifying the people trapped in the debris and tracking them. But given the huge mound of the building rubbish, the rescue operations would continue for the next 20 hours. The rescuers would have to go slow in the operation as using any earthmover at the spot may turn fatal for people trapped beneath. So the rescuers would have to remove the concrete rubble manually. The huge posse of police officers used dozens of megaphones to communicate amongst themselves and with other people at the spot.
Several workers were in tears with each one saying that their beloved were trapped under the rubble. While it is unclear as to how many people are trapped, the figures would be conclusive only after debris is completely removed and thorough search done.
Meanwhile, the relatives of the construction workers were shuttling across the city hospitals, and failing to find them among the injured and even the deceased, most returned to the accident scene.
The mobile phones of all the missing persons remained switched off, increasing concern among the relatives and survivors, most of them from Seemandhra. Lokesh, one of the persons who was seen waiting as the rescuers went about the job, said his brother Mahesh (22) was one of the missing persons. He has already been to the hospitals, but returned here after failing to locate his brother.
Waiting at the accident spot at Moulivakkam, the relatives of one of the victims, Shantakumari said three other women in their family were yet to be traced.