Baban Margale was on the same premises when fire started at a chemical plant near Uravade village in the district where he and his wife Mangal worked. But Margale could not do anything to save her as the doors of the building where she worked got locked, he told reporters here.
Mangal (28) was among the 17 workers, most of them women, who died in the dreadful fire that broke out at the chemical plant of SVS Aqua Technologies in Mulshi tehsil, 40 km from here, on Monday. Despite the intensity of the fire, local people used JCB machines to break down a wall of the building. But for Mangal Margale and some others it was too late.
“My wife was working here for the last one and a half years. It was her first day at work after a gap of one and a half months due to illness. After taking permission from the company officials, she had resumed work only yesterday,” said Baban Margale, who has two children. The fire was noticed around 3.30 pm, he said.
“As we six or seven workers came out of our section, within a few moments the fire spread everywhere and no one could do anything as the doors (of the building where his wife worked) got locked,” said 34-year-old Margale, a resident of Kharvade village. Waiting outside the morgue of the Sassoon general hospital in Pune to collect her body, Sambhaji Gavade, the uncle of the Margales, said a case of culpable homicide should be registered against company officials.
Safety audit should be conducted at all factories in the tehsil, he said. Sameer Kanjane, cousin of Geeta Diwadkar (40), one of the victims, said she had been working with the company for the last six months.
“She worked elsewhere earlier, but lost the job when that company shut down due to COVID-19,” he said. A pall of gloom descended on the nearby Uravade village from where many of the victims hailed as the locals struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.
Since most bodies were burnt beyond recognition, the authorities are resorting to DNA matching technology for identification. Some relatives were at the hospital’s laboratory to give samples for DNA analysis.
“DNA analysis of the bodies should be conducted as soon as possible and the bodies should be handed over to us,” said one of them. When the fire broke out, some locals rushed to the spot. Anticipating that workers could have been trapped inside, they arranged two `backhoe loaders’ to break the walls and also brought a water tanker to douse the flames.
“The fire was so intense that it was difficult to go near the building. But our drivers on backhoe loaders went ahead and broke the walls so that the people trapped inside could come out,” said a local resident. Devendra Potphode, chief fire officer, Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority, said as per company officials, 37 workers were at the plant when the tragedy occurred.
“As soon as the fire broke out, several of them managed to escape and came out of the company’s premises. However, as per the firm, 17 workers were trapped inside,” he said.