CHENNAI: Exactly 24 hours after the only high-rise building for miles around (discounting its twin) in Mouliwakkam came crashing down, rescuers seem grim about the fate of any survivors. “We are constantly trying to work our way to people, but now each passing hour is a trial. People need food, water and clean air to survive, even if they don’t have any trauma or injuries,” said a Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Service inspector, amid the debris.
One of the saving graces for the building and those trapped inside, is that the basement was a good 25 feet below the ground level. A L&T engineer who was present, explained that because of the weight of the structure, the building would have collapsed till the second or third floor, but there was a real possibility that people who had been in the basement - where workers homes and recreation spots were situated - could have been boxed in, under the debris. “If it had been a normal ground floor, they would have been crushed immediately,” he said.
And as the searing hot day wore on, dehydration was a very real and concerning issue - both for the trapped and for the rescuers. The fact that the mountain of debris stood nearly 30 feet tall from the ground level also dented the confidence of arriving rescue teams; the task before them remaining as imposing as when the ordeal began. “We keep cutting into small rivulets and finding pathways to the chambers where people are trapped, but there is a constant fear that the tons of mortar and metal will come crashing down,” said Kishore, an NDRF operative who has rescued people from building collapses thrice before. In fact, most of the heavy-duty land movers and cranes that CMRL, the PWD and L&T had brought there proved ineffective - just smashing the girders caused the ground to shake and raised fears that the basement would collapse.
“In these matters, going manual and slowly is the best way,” he added.
As the bouts of rain and hail came twice - at 3.15 pm and at 6.35 pm - things got murkier and rescue operations dragged on ceaselessly. But with darkness and waterlogging becoming an issue, rescue teams are slowly admitting that it will be nothing short of a miracle if “many more” people are pulled out alive. “But we are all praying for such a miracle. That is why we are here,” said Saravanan S, a police inspector.