A team comprising men of the fire department and the disaster group rescues a trapped resident from the fourth floor of the building. (Gopal Senapati)
Eight people were trapped in their homes on two floors of a building in Howrah when a portion of a fourth-floor balcony collapsed and the debris blocked the staircase and entrance to many flats.
Officers of the fire department and the disaster management group rescued all the trapped people after a four-hour operation that involved accessing the affected part with heavy equipment from an adjacent building.
A portion of a balcony of 64 Sitanath Bose Lane in Salkia collapsed around 4pm. A huge chunk of debris fell on the third floor and in the narrow lane below.
The G+4 building, with four or five small flats on each floor, is in a bad state because of lack of maintenance.
Hari Prasad Soni was at his office on Rabindra Sarani, off Burrabazar, when he received a call from wife Kusum around 4.15pm.
“She sounded scared and was speaking incoherently. After calming down she narrated to me the entire incident and said she had been trapped inside the house. I told her not to worry and immediately left for my house,” Soni recounted.
Kusum was trapped on the fourth floor along with a help.
Pranadhan Banerjee, 53, was taking a nap after lunch when he heard a loud sound. He tried to open the door of his third-floor apartment but found it blocked.
“I looked out of the window and saw a huge chunk of concrete was blocking the door of my flat. Initially, I was confused. A few minutes later some people called me up from downstairs and told me what had happened and asked me to stay put,” Pranadhan said after being rescued.
Officers of the fire department and the disaster management squad struggled for over four hours before they could remove the debris. Some of the concrete chunks weighed around 20kg.
“Fortunately, nobody on the road or in the building was injured. We had to break down the walls of two apartments on the third floor to rescue people,” said Debabrata Das, a station officer of the fire department who was involved in the rescue operation.
The building, located in a narrow lane, has only one entry point, which made the rescue operation difficult.
“We had to access the fourth floor from an adjoining building with the help of ladders and rope. Transferring equipment like saws and generators was difficult. We first cleared the broken part and then removed the debris blocking the staircase,” said an officer of the fire department.
Residents said the building was constructed in the 1950s and almost all occupants are tenants. “No maintenance work was carried out in the past two decades. This has weakened many portions of the building. The owner has been ignoring our pleas to carry out repairs,” said a tenant. The owner could not be contacted.