New Delhi: "I am trapped. Won't come out alive," were the final words of 28-year-old Bihar native Shakir Hussain, a father of three, during his phone call to his pregnant wife before a cloud of toxic smoke overpowered his senses during a major fire at a building in north Delhi on Sunday.
Zakir Hussain, 32, recalled the nightmarish experience of his younger brother who was brought dead to the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital here after the horrific blaze that has claimed 43 lives and left many others injured. The Hussains, hailing from Madhubani district of Bihar, had planned to go shopping on Sunday, but fate willed otherwise.
"After getting trapped in the billowing smoke, Shakir made the last call to his pregnant wife and told her — 'I am trapped. Won't come out alive'," recalled the tearful brother. Shakir leaves behind three children, two girls and a boy.
"He was about to have another child, but he left his kids fatherless," Zakir said. Shakir had been working in a cap-manufacturing unit on the fourth floor of the factory in Anaj Mandi for the last three years, the brother said after identifying his body at the mortuary.
Nafees (58), who lost his two sons in the tragedy, said they had come to Delhi from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh six years ago. They operated a carry bag-manufacturing unit on the second floor in which around 25 people were employed.
"I got a call from Imran (35), my elder son, who said 'Abbu, a massive fire has erupted in the building. I won't be able to come out alive. Please save me'," Nafees said with a lump in his throat.
"I asked him to call the fire brigade and the call ended soon after. He didn't pick up my calls again," he said. According to Nafees, what would pain him the most was that he did not get to speak to his younger son 32-year-old Ikram.
The scene was equally grim at Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital (LHMC Hospital) where nine of the victims were brought dead, besides one injured person.
Family members, fellow villagers and acquaintances were frantically looking for survivors, from one hospital to another, and urged police authorities to help in tracing them.
Bihar native Wajid Ali sank down to the floor in front of the mortuary at LHMC Hospital after seeing the body of his young cousin and learning that his two brothers are untraceable after the massive blaze.
Ali, in his 20s, said he works in a bag-making unit in the same area. He woke up to the sad news and rushed from one hospital to another looking for his family members, only to find his cousin's body at the Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital (LHMC),
Ten victims were brought to this hospital in central Delhi, nine of them dead and one survivor who was admitted in the ICU. As many as 34 people were brought dead at LNJP Hospital, where 15 injured were admitted. Most of the victims were labourers, doctors said.
At LHMC Hospital, friends and relatives were looking for 14-year-old Mohammed Sahmat and 13-year-old Mohamed Mahbub, who were present in the factory during the fire.
Mahbub's uncle Mohammed Hakim, who is a rickshawpuller and lives in Hari Nagar, was left in despair as he saw the body of his nephew with burn injuries in the mortuary.
"If Allah is merciful, we will find Sahmat," Arman said, still nursing hope of finding the teenager alive.
The tragic incident prompted visit from high-profile politicians, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Union ministers Hardeep Puri and Harsh Vardhan, Lok Sabha MP Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma, Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari and BJP MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa to the LNJP Hospital. The BJP leaders also visited the LHMC Hospital and met the victims' families.
The heart-rending incident brought back tragic memories of the Uphaar cinema hall blaze in 1997. "This is perhaps the biggest tragedy of this nature after the Uphaar mishap," Puri told reporters at LHMC Hospital.
A large number of security personnel were deployed at the two facilities, even as emotions ran high and relatives wailed in grief ruing the fate of their family members.
"I saw my 22-year-old brother in a body bag. What will I tell my parents in Bihar," said a grieving Haider Ali, as he broke down after visiting the mortuary.
Mohammed Mustaqeen, 18, from Saharsa, Bihar, said, his elder brother Mohammed Afsad, 24, died in the incident. "Afsad worked on the third floor in the jacket manufacturing unit. He had been working there for six years. Afsad couldn't celebrate Eid this year with his family. He had last visited home three months ago. Now, he would never come home for Eid," a mourning brother said.
"My brother was to leave for home town in Bihar tomorrow morning. He had asked me to buy items of daily use for house," said Mustaqeen, who had come to Delhi a few months ago.
Almost all the deceased were migrant labourers hailing from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Police and fire department officials said many of the fatalities occurred due to suffocation as the people were sleeping when the fire started at around 5 am on the second floor of the building that did not have fire safety clearance and was packed with combustible material like card boards.
It took over 150 firefighters nearly five hours to douse the blaze. As many as 63 people were pulled out from the building. While 43, including one minor, died, 16 were injured. Two fire department personnel were hurt while carrying out rescue work, officials said.
Lok Sabha MP Verma said a "high-level inquiry should be done in 48 hours and tell us what were the lapses, and the people responsible for it" Sirsa said, "We have learnt no lesson from Uphaar tragedy. We stand with the families in the hour of grief".