Sunita Bhalerao (54) always had great faith in Lord Ganesha. On Thursday night, her faith got stronger. Bhalerao, an aayah with a nursing home, her family and five guests left home to participate in a Ganpati procession. When the family returned at 3 am, its two houses at Shastri Nagar, Saki Naka, had been reduced to rubble by a mudslide.
Her family lost its homes but escaped death. However, 10 other residents of the slum were not so lucky. At least 20 others were injured when the mudslide swept away several shanties.
“Bappa saved us from certain death,” said Bhalerao, hunting for her belongings amidst the rubble and muck. Bhalerao lived in the hut for 12 years and has no place else she can call her own. “Where I will get shelter?” the widow asked.
She accepted that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had issued notices to residents asking them to shift as there was a danger of a mudslide. “We knew living here was risky, but we had no choice,” she said, Amar Singh (24), who lived in a rented shanty, was among those who escaped death. “We left after dinner for Ganesh darshan. We heard a loud crash and came running back only to find rubble,” he said.
Husna Bano and her husband too had a lucky escape. “We left in the evening to break the Ramzan fast. When we returned at midnight, our house was no longer there,” she said.
Heavy rain made rescue operations difficult. What added to the woes of fire brigade and police officials looking for people buried under the rubble were the narrow lanes through which they had to pass to get to the site. It was impossible for an earth-mover to get in and most of the rescue operations were carried out manually with help from locals. Many tried desperately to dig into the rubble with their bare hands.
Some residents blamed the incident on the leaks in a newly-built toilet on the hillock on which the shanties stood. One of the people residing below said: “It has been leaking ever since it was built a few months ago. This loosened the soil that was held together by the roots of a huge tree.”
It wasn’t long before the political blame game began. Somnath Sangle, a local Sena leader, said: “The toilet and other structures were illegally built using the local MLA’s funds.” This was refuted by the Congress. Naseem Khan, of the Congress, said: “This is a political gimmick used by the Shiv Sena, which has been dominant in the area for the last 15 years.”
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said an inquiry would be conducted into the tragedy.
‘I don’t know how I’ll deal with this...’
Anxious eyes follow every doctor and nurse passing by with hope that they would bring good news about their dear ones battling injuries sustained during a mudslide that left them crushed under debris of their houses at Shastri Nagar on Thursday night.
Several policemen stood guard outside the general ward of Rajawadi Hospital in Ghatkopar as wails of people grieving those they had lost ripped through the grey, eerily silent corridors.
Lying in pain in a corner of the ward was Girish Kumar, who was tirelessly glancing at the entrance hoping that at least some help arrives. But the 35-year-old’s wait was in vain because he has no relatives in the city. “I was returning home with a friend after performing Satyanarayan puja at five households,” the pujari (one who performs religious rites) said. “All I remember is that a stone fell on me.”
Kumar, who travels to Mumbai from Allahabad every year to perform pujas at households and Ganesh mandals, sustained a fracture in his hip joint and is the most critical of the 12 cases admitted to Rajawadi. He will be operated upon in a couple of days, doctors said. “I don’t have any relatives here. I don’t know how I will deal with this,” said Kumar.
According to hospital authorities, 23 people were brought to the hospital at around 11.30 pm on Thursday. Nine of them were dead and another patient succumbed to his injuries five minutes after admission.
“Most of the others were suffering from minor head or limb injuries and will be discharged after 24 hours of observation,” said the hospital’s Medical Superintendent Dr Prashant Shimpi.
One of the 12 patients ad mitted chose to go against medical advice and got discharged from the hospital on Friday morning.