'Saved By Trunk': Buried in Debris, a Mother’s Fierce Fight to Save Kids After Building Collapse in Mizoram
Most occupants of the buildings that collapsed after a massive landslide on Tuesday evening work as daily labourers.
Three buildings in Mizoram's Aizawl collapsed after a massive landslide on Tuesday evening, leaving three dead, including two children.
At 12pm on Wednesday, the Leitan Community Hall in Aizawl, Mizoram was packed with over 500 people. As is the custom in Mizoram, people sing songs together to comfort the grieved. Hardly 10 per cent of those gathered had any personal relation with the two children whose deaths were being mourned in the hall.
On Tuesday night, three buildings collapsed with the ground floor of each building totally disappearing due to a landslide caused by heavy rainfall in the evening. The destruction led to a loss of three lives, 52-year-old Saihmingliani and two children Lalnunfeli, 13, and Lalpeksanga, 8. 11 people were seriously injured and admitted in the hospital and a total of 18 families were affected.
The building Complex of Basic Service to Urban Poor (BSUP) was constructed in 2009 by National Project Construction Corporation Ltd (NPCC) and Royal Infra Construction Ltd with an estimate cost of Rs. 64 lakh for each building. The project cost totalled to about Rs 26.23 crore and was launched by President Ram Nath Kovind on his visit to Mizoram on November 30, 2017.
Several families started occupying the BSUP building complex, which is constructed for occupancy of families Below Poverty Line in Mizoram, since its inauguration on June 1, 2018. Most building occupants work as daily labourers and are employed as farmers in people’s fields or find a living as stone crushers.
Loss of a Bright Mind
Lalnunfeli, a 13-year-old student who walked almost six kilometres every day back and forth from the BSUP complex to catch her school bus at Durtlang Leitan, was among the three found crushed between the debris.
Lalnunfeli was an aspiring teacher and the educationists of her school Tons Memento School located at Bawngkawn believe that the class topper had a bright future. “She was a topper who was graded ‘outstanding’ in most subjects. She was very hard working and good natured,” said a teacher.
The teachers said due to her poverty, Lalnunfeli’s fees was sponsored by an organisation and her school uniform and books were collected with aid from the principal.
The teenager lived with her mother, a vegetable vendor, in the ground floor of the BSUP building complex where she breathed her last on Tuesday evening.
The young girl had contributed to the 2018-19 annual magazine of her school by writing an essay on 'If I were a teacher'. She wrote, “I will not diverse the good, the bad, the ugly, the good looking, rich and poor. I will look them equally and I will teach harder those can’t easily learn lessons.”
Saved by a Trunk
Ruatkimi, a resident of the same building complex, lived in the ground floor of block number 4. When the land slip struck the building she, along with her mother, her daughter and 10-month-old baby sunk underneath the earth.
“There was a big sound when it collapsed and we started sinking beneath the earth,” Ruatkimi said, narrating how she began to pray aloud to God and how her family was saved by two trunks.
“A trunk slid in front of us, and another on the back side. The floor collapsed but it was held back by the trunk,” she said.
“I told my mother that my son is not breathing, he has passed away. I looked for my mother and found her breathing, my daughter was also breathing. I told my mom to pray and said we are all going to die but I do not know if they prayed or not,” she added.
The woman then showed tremendous courage by pushing aside the trunk and digging until sand fell through and made a hole big enough for her and her children to crawl out.
“I came out first, then pulled out my daughter and my mother,” she said. While they previously resided in Thuampui locality, Ruatkimi and her family started occupying the house in the complex from June 2018 due to their poor living conditions. She earns a living as a stone crusher, while her husband works in people’s farms.
Heavily traumatised, Ruatkimi said she is afraid to enter any kind of building structure now and starts crying when she hears any big noise.
Remsiama, leader of a local NGO in Leitan, said the government was prepared for natural disasters like wind and earthquake in construction of the complex, but did not account for a landslide and neglected in building a good foundation.
What Went Wrong
Another resident of the complex, Biakliana, believes the government got involved with a project that it was not capable of looking after.
Francis, an architect in Mizoram, said, “Architects and engineers need to have a very clear understanding of the site conditions to avoid such possible scenarios. It is heart-breaking to see such disasters happening. It could have been avoided with a better understanding of the geological formations and taking necessary precautions during the design development.”
According to sources, with a foothold of the land mass excavated, such a disaster was likely but the contractors and engineers often neglect to consult geologists due to want of money. Landslides had allegedly occurred in the area on previous occasions.
The residents of the complex have evacuated their houses and moved to a makeshift location, a community hall. Chief minister Zoramthanga on Wednesday inspected the landslide spot, the makeshift relief centre and the injured at Synod Hospital Durtlang. He assured a compensation of Rs 4 lakh for the family of the deceased and Rs 2 lakh for the injured.
The chief minister held a meeting with the chief secretary as well as officials of the UD&PA Department, Disaster Management & Rehabilitation Department and Geology and Mineral Resources Department in the afternoon. It was decided that a technical investigation will be carried out and the residents will be moved to a safer location. According the government reports, experts believe the structure was not majorly affected despite the heavy landslide due to its strong structure.
An inquiry will be conducted to look into possible technical negligence.
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