Monday, 29 June 2015

Year after building collapse in Moulivakkam, scars remain to haunt city

A partially constructed 11-storey building, certified as unsafe, stands testimony to one of the worst building tragedy the city has witnessed a year ago with the loss of more than 60 lives.

On June 28, 2014, a multi-storey building under construction on Kundrathur Main Road collapsed after a downpour. “It was a black Saturday, one that all of us want to forget,” says a resident of Rajarajan Nagar in Moulivakkam.

A year has passed since the tragedy happened but the scars still remain even as Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) is trying to amend development regulations and ensure that such incidents don’t recur.

According to CREDAI’s national chairman for Best Practices T Chitty Babu, the incident was a wake-up call for developers as well as authorities. “It resulted in responsibilities being fixed on every individual be it builder, developer, buyer or regulator. The whole system got tightened,” he said.

Exactly a year later, the flat owners stand helpless and exhausted. It has been a tough year for these middle-class Chennaiites, one that they spent paying hefty sums for a dead investment. It also brought the retirement savings and salaries of many to a pile of rubble.

The incident left 61 construction workers from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha dead. A total of 27 workers were rescued after week-long operations by various agencies including National Disaster Response Force from Arakkonam.

Journalists who rushed to Ground Zero at Moulivakkam on the day of collapse, were struck with utter disbelief. “When I first received the news alert around 4:30 pm, I thought that it was a fatal accident due to wall collapse. Even the Fire Services Department didn’t know the magnitude of the tragedy that had struck,” recounted J Santosh. After confirming the incident, Santosh rushed to the spot from the Vepery office, braving the heavy rain and traffic jam.

At the other end of the city, photojournalist Albin Mathew, one of the first mediapersons to reach the spot, said that the front entrance to the building complex was cordoned off as there were rumours that the second building had tilted and might collapse. “When I reached there around 6:30 pm, there were only policemen at the site, trying to rescue the workers stuck under the rubble. They were joined by a few other contract labourers, who were not skilled for this. The rescue operations became organised only after the NDRF men reached at 9:30 pm with their specialised equipment,” recounted Albin.

Relatives of those trapped under the rubble were shocked and in grief. Many of them hailed from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and the language barrier complicated the problem, added Santosh.

There were persons alive under the rubble, making themselves heard through a tiny opening. Santosh watched as the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services officers communicated with those under the rubble, passing a bottle of water first and later breaking the concrete pieces one-by-one to pull them out. “Every time someone alive was pulled out, there was a collective loud cheer by those watching. It boosted the morale of those engaged in rescue operations,” recalled Santosh, who had perched himself on the terrace of another house to get a bird’s eye view of the rescue operations.

A number of bodies pulled out from the rubble, were shifted to the Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC) in Porur. Martin Louis, a photojournalist assigned to cover a function in IIT-Madras, recalled missing a number of calls as his phone was inside his bag due to the rains. “When we came to know, we rushed to SRMC. There was some confusion there as another accident had taken place on the highway and bodies were coming from there as well. For a while, nobody understood if the injured and dead were from Moulivakkam or the highway accident,” Martin said. He was accompanied by reporter Pradeep Kumar, who said, “The mood at the hospital was one of high anxiety and tension. Everytime an ambulance came in, relatives of the labourers would rush to check if it was their kin, and if he or she was alive or dead.”

Monday 29 June 2015


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