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HindustanTimes Wed,20 Aug 2014

Jalandhar: Survivors speak of horrors beneath rubble

Sachin Sharma and Rajeev Bhaskar, Hindustan Times  Jalandhar, April 18, 2012
First Published: 12:05 IST(18/4/2012) | Last Updated: 13:14 IST(18/4/2012)

Vir Chander was sleeping between two machines when darkness closed in on him on Sunday, a little before midnight.


For the next 30 hours, waiting to be rescued and unable to move, Chander, 38, would shout at his co- worker Manoj Bhagat - also stuck like him after the four- storeyed building they were working in near Jalandhar collapsed at around 11.30pm on Sunday - and Bhagat would holler back, each invisible to the other but providing a glimmer of hope.

Rescuers pulled out Bhagat, 24, at around 6am on Tuesday. Ninety minutes later, amid a morning drizzle, Chander was taken out of the rubble.

The duo and two more workers, identified as Satinder Kumar and Sandeep, were the only ones rescued on Tuesday. By evening, as the shadows grew long, hope faded for the dozens of others - including children - still buried inside the mass of stone, brick, mud and cement that till Sunday night was the premises of Sheetal Fibers, a building manufacturing unit.

Four more bodies were retrieved after Monday night, taking the death toll to 10. Sixtyfour people have been rescued so far in the joint operation by the National Disaster Response Force, army, Punjab Police and volunteers of the religious sect Dera Sacha Sauda.

A Jalandhar court on Tuesday sent Sheetal Vij, the owner of the factory who was arrested on Monday night, in two days police remand.

Recalling the horror, Chander, who belongs to Bihar's Vaishali district, said: "I'd started working in the factory on Saturday morning. After toiling for more than 36 hours, I decided to take a nap."

Bhagat was walking towards Chander to wake him up to resume work when the ground beneath their feet shook and started collapsing.

"Bhagat was stuck at his place while I was stranded between the machines," Chander said. "It was horrible to remain stuck at that place, particularly in the night when it was dark all over. Bhagat and I talked to each other from our places."

Rescue workers, cutting through the debris with gasutters and using heavy cranes, spotted the duo on Monday night, and gave them water and biscuits.

Chander, who was later admitted to Devi Talab charitable hospital here, escaped his ordeal with minor injuries.

Bhagat suffered a fracture in the leg. The rescue operation was hampered during night because of lack of artificial light, including search light equipment. Jalandhar district officials contacted a construction company to provided two big excavators, three dumpers and two hydracranes to speed up the clearing up.

An official said an estimated 70 people were trapped inside, but other sources said the figure could be more than 100.

Bhagat said he considered himself lucky to be alive after the two longest nights of his life. "Chander and I kept talking," he said. "We cheered each other up."

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