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Fear and desperation as families of Mundka fire victims search for loved ones 

A day after a fire tore through a four-storey manufacturing unit in Mundka, relatives waited at Sanjay Gandhi Hospital for news about their loved ones. As the day progressed, hope dwindled. 

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New Delhi: Rinki is exhausted from worrying and crying. She and her relatives wait outside the emergency ward of the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital in northwest Delhi, desperately waiting for some news of her missing mother Yashoda Devi.

Between wracking sobs and frantically asking her relatives “maa theek hogi na (will mother be okay)”, she brings out her mother’s photo to pass around the hospital in the desperate hope that someone had spotted her around. A male relative comes by and volunteers to go looking for Yashoda Devi inside the morgue.

Half an hour after ThePrint saw her first, Rinki’s wails of anguish rip through the hospital: Her mother Yashoda Devi was found in the morgue —  one of 27 people who died in a fire that ripped through a four-storey building that housed an electronics manufacturing company in Delhi’s Mundka Friday afternoon.

As Rinki lies crumpled on the floor, journalists’ cameras click furiously nearby.

“I’ve lost everything today,” Rinki said, waiting to take the body home for the funeral rites.

Like Rinki, several people waited desperately outside the hospital’s emergency ward as sirens wailed nearby Saturday.  Many have been waiting since Friday night.

Scenes of chaos met the eye everywhere you looked. Civil defence officials stood with lists of missing people in their hands as family members desperately shouted descriptions of what their loved ones wore — “Blue jeans, green kurta”, “white shirt”, “green salwar” — when they left for work Friday morning. Clothes could be charred, the families were told, so they would need different identifiers: jewellery that women wore, for instance.

The civil defence officials hold missing people’s lists in their hands. Twenty-seven people were missing Saturday, of which eight people have been identified, Deputy Commissioner Police (Outer) Sameer Sharma said. The death toll stands at 27 — eight, including Yashoda Devi’s, have so far been identified.

According to Delhi Police, two brothers — Varun Goel and Harish Goel, owned the company where Yashoda worked. They have been arrested under sections 304 (causing death by negligence), 308 ( attempt to commit culpable homicide), 120 (concealing design to commit offence punishable) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Delhi Police said the building’s owner, a man they identified as Manish Lakra — who lived on the top floor with his family — is currently absconding.

Apart from Yashoda Devi, seven other victims — Vishal, Manju Devi, Tania Bhushan, Mohini Pal, Drishti, and a father-son duo, Kailash Jayani and Amit Jayani — have been identified.

Also Read: No emergency exit, fire extinguishers — how ‘illegal’ building in Delhi’s Mundka turned death trap

Desperate wait

Sonam’s family has been waiting for hours now for any news of their 20-year-old daughter, who worked at the company’s Wifi department. Sonam’s shift was from 10 am to 6 pm, her mother Sunita said. The fire broke out at 3.30 pm. 

“I lost my husband last year to Covid, now her,” said an inconsolable Sunita. “The company didn’t allow mobile phones in her unit. I couldn’t hear her voice one last time”.

Asha Singh said her daughter-in-law Madhu was going to have a puja at home on her marriage anniversary.  Her son Amit has been running from one corner of the hospital to another looking for his wife, she told ThePrint.

“Amit lost his driving job during Covid and since then Madhu has been supporting the whole family,” Asha said.

Like Sonam, Madhu had to give up her phone before she entered the unit. The family came to know of the fire at 5:30 pm.

Madhu and Amit have two daughters, ages 8 and 4.  The younger one keeps calling to ask when her mother’s going to be home.

“What will I tell them,” Asha wails.

Manish stands nearby, trying desperately to hold back his tears. His three sisters Madhu, 22, Preeti, 23 and Poonam, 21 — work at the company.

One of them called their father at 4.30 pm Friday to tell him about the fire, but the call got cut.

“Papa aag lag gayi hain (Papa, there’s been a fire)— that’s all she could say. The phone was disconnected after that,” Manish said. “We have no idea about how they are now”.

Among those who died in the fire is 24-year-old Vishal.

His mother Manju says Vishal’s friend called her last night to say he had jumped. “But if he had jumped, I thought he would have escaped,” Manju said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: 8 years in US prison, ‘drug hauls, money laundering’: The murky past of Paradiso’s Ashok Solomon

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