At a house on Sunguvar Lane, Triplicane, a digital clock revealed that it was 7.40 a.m. A little ahead of the house, a two-storey structure had come crashing down minutes earlier, and debris was still flying around. Men were attempting to dig through the rubble to find signs of life, while some women stood on the narrow Sungavar Street, crying. A large portion of the building had collapsed and fell forward, damaging two houses in its path.
A team from the Triplicane fire station along with police personnel and local residents began rescue operations to find and locate the 10 people, including children, who were residents of the dilapidated structure, believed to more than 70 years old.
Retired banker Thyagarajan and his wife Manjula Devi owned the building, and resided on the topmost floor. They rented out portions on the first and ground floor to residents and two business establishments. Motorcycles, books and furniture were buried amidst the debris, but initially, there was no sign of any residents or cries of help even after firemen and locals had combed every inch of the site.
Hope arrived in the form of the five-member canine squad of the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services (TNFRS) around 9 a.m. Dogs Juna, Jack, Jansi, Julie and Ori ran atop the rubble and sniffed out signs of life on the eastern and central portions of the collapsed building. TNFRS teams sprung into action, excavating the spots. A crowd started to swell there, with residents and media persons occupying the terraces and balconies of surrounding structures. to get a clear view.
While police struggled to control the crowd, residents and relatives of those trapped, distributed refreshments and food to rescuers and media persons. At 10.32 a.m., a body, later identified as that of Manjula Devi, was retrieved from the rubble at the eastern end. As she was pulled out, residents threw bed sheets and saris from windows and terraces which rescuers used to cover the body before it was whisked away into a waiting ambulance.
The first moment of joy was at 12.15 p.m., when divisional fire officer Meenakshi Vijayakumar shouted, “We can see the boy.” Her team, comprising Murugan, Loganathan, Saravana and a few other firemen who was meticulously digging the central pile of rubble pulled out a young man alive. He was later identified as Parthasarathy. The large crowd erupted in applause and cheers.
Minutes later, at the other end, the team pulled out Thyagarajan, who was alive then. He was rushed to hospital, but succumbed en route.
Rescue efforts continued, at the eastern end, with two firemen entering the collapsed structure. Hammers, torches and ropes were sent in by firemen above, who pulled out over 15 huge concrete slabs. Finally, after six hours of operations, Parthasarathy’s mother Bharathi, the last remaining person trapped, was brought out at 1.40 p.m., to a thundering ovation.