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Friday, March 4, 2011

Bandra slums up in flames

Hundreds of shanties gutted as fire from cloth scrap shop spreads, 26 fire tenders called in; 11 injured at last count

Amajor fire destroyed most of Garibnagar slums near Bandra Railway Station (East) on Friday night. Hundreds of shanties were gutted and train on Harbour and Western lines were thrown out of gear. Apart from nine persons taken to hospital with breathing problems due to the smoke, two firemen were also injured, as per information available at the time of going to press.
    The blaze broke out at 8.30 pm and quickly spread through the dense hutments. A total of 26 fire tenders were struggling to extinguish the blaze as of 11.20 pm, and more than 200 cops led by Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik were controlling the crowds.
    As crowds spilled on to Bandra railway station platforms, cops made their way to the venue in 20 police buses and took up riot-control formation positions. The destroyed slums were once home to child actors of
Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. Azharuddin and Rubina, who played the roles of the protagonists in their childhood, used to live in this very slum. Several other children, who played bit roles in the movie, still stay there.
    Traffic jams around Bandra railway station resulted in bottlenecks up to
Mahim and Sion. At the time of going to press, firefighters were trying to manoeuvre their vehicles through narrow roads near the shanties. The fire caused at least five cylinder blasts in the shanties, which are on the Railway land encroached many years ago.
    A firefighter said, "Most of the shanties had stored cloth scrap, and
materials used in zari trade, especially silk. Wood and freshly-painted tin walls of shanties spread the fire rapidly." The area quickly ran out of water, and manoeuvring water tankers – 15 till around 9.30 pm – was proving to be extremely difficult. People resorted to throwing water on the burning shanties from buckets.
    Joint Municipal Commissioner S S Shinde said lack of space for fire tenders to reach the venue was the major problem. "Our men had to use ladders to climb the skywalk. As of now, there is no report of any death."
    Officials said it will take several hours before casualties could be estimated. According to Western Railway officials, up and down fast lines were shut down around 9 pm "as precautionary measures". Heat from the fire was threatening the overhead electricity wires. Till around 11 pm, Railway officials said chances of the fire reaching the tracks were remote.
    A fire officer said prima facie, the source of the fire seemed to be a cloth scrap shop close to the ticket booking
office on the eastern side of Bandra station. The fire spread because of the wood planks nearby. Soon, it engulfed the skywalk near the station.
    Around 11.30 pm, hundreds of Mumbaikars reached the venue with food and water. Politicians too visited the spot, but many of them had to return as their presence was hampering rescue operations. The area is prone to such tragedies. In 2009, fire had broken out in Behrampada, close to Garibnagar, in which five persons died and at least 50 were injured. At that time, it took Fire Brigade officials more than 48 hours to bring the situation under control. Around 40 trains on the Harbour line were cancelled on Friday evening.
    Till midnight, 40 trains on the Harbour Line were cancelled and overhead equipment teams had begun visual inspection. At the time of going to the press, Western Railway officials said that services on the Harbour Line was expected to begin around 12.30 am.

» February 10, 2009 – One person died and 23 were injured in a fire that broke out at Maharashtra Nagar slums near Bada Masjid, Bandra west.
» June 19, 2009 – Major fire at Berhampada in Bandra east left one child dead and 29 injured. Over 300 hutments were gutted in the blaze and 2,500 people were rendered homeless. The fire engulfed an area of nearly 10,000 sq ft and endangered several hundred four-storey structures. The slum-dwellers were so agitated that they initially did not allow even fire brigade officials to enter the area. Officials had to take the help of the Special Reserve Police Force to get into the area. The blaze, described as a brigade call in firefighters' parlance, was one of the biggest in the city in the last 25 years.
» November 11, 2010 – Fire breaks out on the 9th floor of 10-storey HDIL tower in Bandra east. Two hundred fifty firefighters battle over 4 hours to control the fire and rescue 800 people.

(Clockwise from above) A man climbs on to the roof of his Garib Nagar hutment in Behrampada, Bandra (East), to find a way to escape the flames; Hutments, in which cloth scrap was stored, were the first to catch fire; A man found praying in the hour of crisis; the chaos spills over to the Bandra Railway Station. At the time of going to print, over 40 trains on Harbour Line had been cancelled


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