Around 1.30 am on Wednesday, Arun* was in bed, browsing on his phone. The 41-year-old marketing professional would have slept by that time on most other days, but that night, he was awake. And he is thankful for that, for around that time, he heard a loud thud, and felt the floor shaking.
Arun and his family lived in a residential building, Sai Adi Ambal, in Thomas Town near Hutchins Road. In the wee hours of Wednesday, an under-construction building beside their apartment collapsed when the pillars in the basement gave way.
After it collapsed, the structure leaned into the residential building, causing a part of the latter’s parking area to cave. The accident killed five people – two construction workers Shambu and Khagen in the first building, and the watchman Narayan, his wife Nirmala and their four-year-old daughter Anushka who lived in a single room in the parking lot of Sai Adi Ambal.
Recalling the horrifying night to TNM, Arun says that after he and his wife woke up, they rushed to their 12-year-old son’s room, woke him up as well as their domestic help. They all ran out of the house. “Then I realised that others also needed to know and leave the building. I thought, if we’re going to die, we might as well try and help out as many people as we can,” he tells TNM.
And so, Arun started banging all the doors and telling people to get out of the building as he ran down the stairs. One of the persons whose doors he knocked on was Syed, who was staying on the third floor with one of the men who works for him. He too was awake that night. “I too heard a loud thud, and felt as though the building was leaning on one side. The floor seemed to sink and bend,” he tells TNM.
Syed and his flatmate rushed out of their flat to find everyone waking up and doing the same, navigating through the darkness and dust in the corridors.
However, as they reached the ground floor which was above the parking, they found their way blocked. They could not use the stairs leading to the parking to exit the building. Quick thinking allowed the residents to go into an apartment on the ground floor, and find a window. Because the building had sunk due to the parking collapsing in part, they climbed through the window and on to the debris to leave the building.
Once outside, the residents took in the scene. Beside Sai Adi Ambal, the yellow coloured under construction building lay in shambles. Two of its floors had given in, falling on to the unsuspecting construction workers who were in the basement.
Arun realised that Narayan, Nirmala and Anushka were not part of the shaken crowd that was outside the building. “For 15 minutes I was in shock. Then, I came to my senses, and started calling out for Narayan and his family. I was losing hope because the parking area was in very bad shape,” he says.
An hour later, the police and Fire Department arrived. “We tried telling them that there are three people in the rubble under our building also. But perhaps they were also short-staffed or had their own restraints, because they all turned to the first building. In front of my eyes, I saw 4-5 people pulled out of the debris,” he says.
Around 6 am, the NDRF arrived and rescue operations hastened up. About four hours later, the residents learnt that Narayan and his family had not survived the mishap.
By around 1 pm, the search and rescue was wound up.
During the course of the day, the rescue teams helped residents get important belongings like documents and clothes from their homes.
Arun, who calls himself a practical person for the most part, couldn’t help but break down when he went back into the house and saw his son’s room had tilted to one side. “To think what could have happened to him had I not been awake and we hadn’t escaped in time terrified me,” he says.
Arun and Syed were both owned their flats and had shelled out tens of lakhs to buy them. “The house was in my wife’s name, and she was very attached to this place. But we have to move on,” Arun resigns.
Not only have they faced losses there, but apart from small belongings, it is unlikely that residents will be able to recover bigger things like fridge, bed etc.
The reason for the collapse of the yellow under-construction building was pinned on the weak foundation. “When they were constructing it also, I remember seeing water coming from the ground and the workers being unable to stop it despite covering it up with mud and silt. I remember asking them about it, but they said they had permission from the BBMP,” Arun says. “You don’t really get into these things unless you feel it’s dangerous. We thought since the BBMP had given permission, they might have a plan to remedy it” he adds.
Further, Syed points out that it wasn’t just one extra floor that was being built atop the approved three floors. “From the front, the yellow building seemed to have only three plus one floors. However, if you look at the back, you could see they had actually built several extra floors, not just one. The must have caused the building to become unstable and tilt towards ours.”
In the photo below, you can see that there seem to be five floors standing upright.
Arun and Syed say that while an FIR has also been registered against the builders and land owners of both plots of land, residents are consulting experts on how to best pursue legal action against them.