The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Doused flames dispel despair
Firemen inspect the damage in the upper basement of the Satyanarayan Park AC Market. The overhead airconditioning ducts have suffered most in the blaze that broke out on Tuesday morning in the undergound plaza. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

After two days of deep despair, the mood in Burrabazar lifted almost miraculously on Thursday, along with the smokescreen over Satyanarayan Park. With the blaze battle won and it becoming clear that most shops in the underground market had not suffered structural damage, it was time to lay out the laddus.

Fire services minister Pratim Chatterjee was quick to claim victory. “Though late, we controlled the fire without any help from the mine experts in Asansol,” stressed Chatterjee on Thursday. “We have never fought such an underground fire before, but we managed to put it out completely by 6 am, with help from the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.”

At the end of their ordeal, the blame game at Burrabazar gave way to a generous round of thanksgiving, for both man and miracle. “It’s nothing but a miracle. Be it the police or the firefighters, everyone did their best to douse the flames… In the morning, I went inside and found my shop intact,” smiled Rajesh Goyel, a young designer and boutique-owner in the basement plaza.

Sharing glory shelf with the fire-fighting heroes at Satyanarayan Park AC Market was the Paharimata temple on the lower basement. “It was unscathed and I could even see the Ramayana open in front of the temple. Mataji saved us, otherwise, we would have lost everything,” said Gopal Saraf, who waded down to the lower basement on Thursday morning.

The flooding of the two-tier market continued 72 hours after the blaze broke out. Baren Sen, director, fire services, said: “The firemen are now conducting a recycling operation, pumping in cold water and draining out the warm water to reduce the temperature of the two basements.”

A comprehensive plan will then be put in place to enable the shopowners to take out their goods, said deputy commissioner of police (central) Zulfiqar Hasan. “The forensic investigations should be completed by Friday and then, 10 shopowners will be allowed entry at a time,” he added. Two booths, one manned by the police and the other by the market committee, will monitor operations.

“We are expecting to clear the upper basement shortly and an inspection of the lower basement will start on Friday morning,” said D.P. Biswas, deputy director of fire services.

The police, meanwhile, filed a case of criminal conspiracy and negligence “against unknown persons” at Posta police station over the blaze. And the fire services department announced an expert committee to prepare a programme to fight underground fires in the city.

But for the traders on Kalakar Street, all that matters is getting back to business as usual. “It might take a week or a month, but it’s just a matter of time before Satyanarayan Park is back as the shopping capital of Burrabazar,” they promise.

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