Rescuers toil all night to remove those trapped under Ghatkopar billboard | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Rescuers toil all night to remove those trapped under Ghatkopar billboard

May 15, 2024 09:31 AM IST

Rescuers made their way through the rubble and carefully moved through the spaces between the skeletal remains of the hoarding and removed 88 people

Mumbai: In the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday, around 130 personnel from NDRF and fire brigade pooled their energies to rescue those trapped under the hoarding that collapsed on a petrol pump on Police ground, in Ghatkopar. Rescuers made their way through the rubble and carefully moved through the spaces between the skeletal remains of the hoarding and removed 88 people – both alive and dead -- till 5am.

Workers remove debris at the accident site in Ghatkopar, Mumbai on Tuesday. (Praful Gangurde/HT Photo)
Workers remove debris at the accident site in Ghatkopar, Mumbai on Tuesday. (Praful Gangurde/HT Photo)

At the time of the incident on Monday afternoon, people had either arrived for a refill in their vehicles or were sheltering at the petrol station from the pre-monsoon rain. Some managed to scamper to safety while others were squashed in their vehicles or came directly under the hoarding’s metal sheet. Through the night, family members of the victims kept arriving at the spot and held up pictures of their loved ones to the authorities. Some tried to seek a glimpse of the trapped through the mangle.

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By midnight, two 500-ton cranes were diverted from metro work nearby to hasten operations. The machines lifted the hoarding bit by bit helping rescuers to push through the trestles to remove the dead. Each time they sensed a body nearby, they dropped their tools, choosing to work manually to avoid possible sparks which could lead to fire. When a body was pulled out, people thronged to it hoping it was one of their own.

Search operations continued all night. “While the fire brigade used a device that amplifies sound to check if there were any beating hearts, NDRF sent sniffer dogs. At around 7am however, we were sure that there may not be any more stuck alive,” said a fire brigade officer. One of the workers of the petrol pump retrieved the last dead body, he said.

As daylight emerged they changed their tactics. “The hoarding’s girders are too heavy to lift entirely by the cranes, so we started cutting through and removed the scrap of vehicles and petrol pump underneath,” said an NDRF official. “This was also tricky, as we could only use hydraulic cutters carefully to avoid sparks. The fuel stored could easily ignite.” While the operation was on, petrol from the pump was simultaneously being drained; and for extra caution, water and fire-resistant foam were sprayed.

Cutters and excavators were used to scoop out the rubble. Despite a certainty that no one lay trapped alive, rescue forces proceeded with caution in case of an error of judgement.

“The bases of the hoarding are interconnected and too heavy to lift by cranes,” said Tausif Khan, an official from the company in-charge of operating the heavy machinery. “We were following NDRF’s lead and tried to figure out a way to lift the hoarding, by cutting part of it to reduce its weight.”

The foot soldiers went about their job till the afternoon – there were no more bodies under the mangle; only carcases of bikes, cars and auto-rickshaws.

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