‘None of us knew where the emergency exits were located'
Bangalore: “I felt as though I was under a volcano. I had never imagined I would be trapped in such a situation. We saw people leap to death and some run helter-skelter. I helped some to come out. I feel I could have saved more people [though I was getting choked too]. There is blood on my hands and each one of us is responsible for the nine deaths,” said Shivaraj, who survived the February 23 Carlton Towers fire.
An emotional Mr. Shivaraj, wracked by coughing fits, and two fellow survivors who were treated at Manipal Hospital, spoke to the media on Thursday.
“I don't work there. I had gone to see a friend on the seventh floor and was trapped,” he said.
“None of us knew where the emergency exits were located.
“The corridors were blocked as they were occupied by the offices and the alarms did not ring. People working inside the offices were not aware that there was smoke building [up] until it actually crept into the chambers,” said Nitin Dubey, another survivor.
“People were shouting from below to break the glass. I broke a window and [kept leaning] out for 75 minutes, the only way to escape the smoke.”
Mr. Dubey, who was discharged on Thursday from the hospital, said: “Did the BBMP not know there were violations in the building? For the last three years [that I have been working there] I have not seen a single fire drill in the building. This tragedy is the tip of an iceberg in Bangalore. We knew the corridors were blocked and exit doors locked but never complained because we never realised their importance. All of us are to blame.”
Pointing out that he was rescued by firemen, Mr. Dubey said: “By the time the fire brigade got ladders that could reach the seventh floor, it was 6.30 p.m., almost two hours after the tragedy struck.”
R. Shankar, a passerby who saw a woman leap to death and rushed in on a rescue mission, narrated how he went up to five floors and managed to help seven persons come out. “In the melee, I stepped on the glass pieces and hurt my right leg,” said this office boy who works for a private company in Jayanagar.
Manipal Health Systems CEO Rajen Padukone said the hospital would provide free counselling to survivors and their relatives to help them overcome post-disaster trauma. People can visit the hospital from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m..
Medical Director H. Sudarshan Ballal and COO Nagendra Swamy said 12 fire victims were still in hospital. “Of these, three are on the ventilator,” Dr. Swamy said.
Mr. Padukone said the Government had promised to foot the victims' medical expenses. “We will utilise it to improve our disaster management system,” he added.
CCTV footage of how the hospital managed the disaster was shown at the press conference.