It was a sight of devastation and despair on Wednesday evening at Numaish, Hyderabad's annual exhibition, as a massive fire broke out at around 9 pm and gutted close to 200 stalls that had been set up.
Hussain from Kashmir was in tears. He brought goods worth over Rs 15 lakh and is now left with goods just enough to fit an auto. When TNM found him, he was resting his head on an autorickshaw and was lost in thoughts. "I had lost goods earlier in Kerala floods also. I had set up a stall at Thrissur and lost all my goods there and now this fire. You know the situation in Kashmir. I don't know what to do," he said.
There are over 300 stalls by traders from Kashmir at the exhibition, as it is known for its Kashmiri Pashmina shawls.
Soon after the fire broke out, chaos ensued as customers and shop owners began hastily making their way to the exit of the venue at Exhibition Grounds in Nampally. Thousands were present at the venue at the time of the incident. More than 20 fire tenders were rushed to the spot and authorities were seen busy in rescue operations. As of now, officials are yet to determine what started the fire but they suspect that a short circuit at Mahesh Bank could have led to the incident.
Kanchan from Gujarat had brought goods worth Rs 50 lakh to the exhibition and said that he had lost all of it. He said, "We didn't know if we should hold on to our goods or run for our lives. In between, we suspect that some people stole our goods. Some people said they will help us save the goods but then ran away with it. We got these goods by taking loans from various people."
At the centre of the exhibition, a Gandhi statue stood surrounded by a huge pile of packed clothes and traders who had come to sell their cloth. None of them expected that such an incident would happen. All that they could manage to salvage from the flames was stacked up together.
BS Parasamal from Gujarat had thirty stalls at the exhibition and has been setting it up for the past three years. This year he had brought more goods to the exhibition than he did the previous year. He said that goods worth Rs 7 to Rs 8 crore were gutted and could not be saved.
For many traders, the fire came as a double whammy, as just days ago, there were unexpected rains in Hyderabad, which spoiled many goods that were on display.
Teraj, who had set up one stall, said "The rain had dampened our business. We were hoping that it would pick up in the next 15 days. We were unloading new goods to the stalls when the fire broke out."
"There was only one fire engine that came and there was a delay in the arrival of the next one. People got crowded around the stalls on fire and the fire engines couldn't get through the traffic," he claimed.
Telangana Home Minister Mahmood Ali, who visited the accident site, assured the traders that the government would extend them all possible help. He denied that the fire services department failed to act promptly to control the fire. He also said an inquiry would be ordered into the fire accident.
A few people were reportedly admitted to Osmania Hospital due to respiratory issues after inhaling smoke. A firefighter was also injured while trying to douse the fire. Two people were taken to the casualty at CARE Hospital in Nampally.
The All India Industrial Exhibition, known more commonly as Numaish is an annual event that has been held in Hyderabad for the last 80 years, pulling large crowds each year. Numaish began in 1938, during the era of the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, as an attempt to promote locally made goods. This year, more than 2,000 stalls were set up.