Rampant unauthorised construction and lack of proper roads around Shahberi village where two buildings collapsed Tuesday night slowed down initially rescue operations, officials said Wednesday.
Officials of the eighth battalion of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) on Wednesday said they expect the rescue work to continue till Thursday evening.
The NDRF has been at site of the disaster since 9.30 pm Tuesday when one building collapsed on another at Shahberi village in Greater Noida. Dozens of people are still feared trapped in tonnes of debris. By Wednesday evening a total of eight bodies were pulled out of the debris.
“The task has become challenging to extract the bodies from the rubble. We spotted a fourth body around 4pm on Wednesday. It was stuck inside the building structure. We are drilling the debris and trying to trace other bodies. The dog squad and sensors have not been able to detect movement of survivors. But we are still hopeful. The collapsed structures have thick beams which are reinforced with concrete, cement and iron bars. A review for continuing rescue will be taken up on Thursday,” said PK Srivastava, commandant of the eighth battalion based in Ghaziabad.
“We are drilling at different spots in the debris to trace bodies. The task is challenging as they can only be located visually. The different storeys of the buildings have fallen in layers and drilling is the only option. It is to retrieve the bodies properly otherwise they can get mutilated. The victims died soon after being crushed under the heavy structures. It is taking us nearly 4-5 hours as an average to retrieve bodies,” Srivastava added.
The force based at Govindpuram in Ghaziabad, nearly 13km, took 40 minutes to reach Shahberi and the movement of their vehicles was also hampered due to irregular development in the village which houses towering high rises.
The police vehicles and the fire tenders also faced similar issues as they got stuck amid the non-metalled narrow bylanes with hardly any turning radius. Open sewer manholes on non-metalled roads also posed a potential risk to personnel.
The police, fire department personnel and the NDRF faced difficulty in reaching the spot as there were no streetlights in the area. On directions of district magistrate BN Singh, the electricity department later lit up the area through makeshift arrangement.
The connecting roads to the interiors of Shahberi village are non-metalled with gaping sewer pits lying uncovered and sewage spread around. The locals said that the dilapidated condition of the area is because of rampant unauthorised construction activities in dozens of mushrooming high rises inside the village which is located on the border of Ghaziabad and Greater Noida west.
“The unauthorised constructions have been going on for years now and there is hardly any sanctity or norms followed. There are no proper roads, sewage and other basic facilities in the area. Yet, the high-rise construction is mushrooming and people are being lured to purchase flats here. Many buildings in the area have come up without land use conversion as most of the land is agricultural,” said Mahendra Chaudhary, a social activist from Shahberi.
“The police and the administration had tough time clearing the site for starting rescue operations. People were not ready to clear the area and arrived in large numbers to click pictures and prepare videos of the fallen buildings. The rescue personnel lost much time and energy reaching to the spot,” said Pankaj Gautam who arrived from nearby Gaur City.
The surrounding areas of the disaster site have nearly half a dozen ready-to-move and under-construction high-rises. The site was also blocked by heaps of bricks, sand and other construction material strewn around. The administration had to deploy earth-moving machines to clear the site.
“A portion of foot of a victim was seen clearly buried under the rubble. Since the site was not clear to put up equipment and with no light source, we faced initial hiccups. Once the site was cleared, it took us nearly four hours to cut the structure and retrieve the first body,” said an official from the NDRF.
Union Minister and Gautam Budh Nagar MP Mahesh Sharma on late Tuesday night visited the site and said that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath was monitoring the relief and rescue work on an hourly basis.
“The CM has also ordered for an inquiry. Our prime focus is on rescue work. Any violations which led to the incident will be inquired and action will be taken. Any violation of building by-laws and constructions taken against the map sanction is subject matter of inquiry,” Sharma said.