Bantwal: Perne tragedy - Death toll rises to 9 as another injured dies
Daijiworld Media Network - Mangalore
Mangalore, Apr 12: The death toll in the ghastly gas tanker accident at Perne near Uppinangady on Tuesday April 9 has risen to nine, after another injured person passed away in the hospital here on Friday April 12.
The deceased is Vimala (38), an anganwadi teacher by profession.
Vimala was admitted to Father Muller hospital, where she breathed her last on Friday after battling for two days.
Vimala was the second among five children. Her elder brother passed away 18 years ago, and mother about two years ago. She had taken the responsibility of looking after her sisters and had even got them married off, without being married herself. On the fateful day of the tragedy, she had visited her friend Indira. Both were injured in the fire.
The other deceased are Sunil (16), son of Seetharam from Perne, Guruvappa (30), a tailor by profession, Vanitha (38), wife of Narayan, her son, Shitesh (5), Shobha Rai (40), wife of Shankar Rai, Khateejamma, wife of Muhammed, Vasant from Soorikumeru in Bantwal, and tanker driver, Cheluvarasan (35) from Tamil Nadu.
Bantwal: Perne tragedy - Locals still in shock, fight frustration, apathy
Pics: Dayanand Kukkaje / Ramesh Pandith
Daijiworld Media Network – Bantwal (NM)
Bantwal, Apr 12: A pall of gloom has descended on the village of Perne, where on Tuesday April 9 disaster struck in the form of gas tanker accident that changed the lives of several people forever.
A visit to the spot by daijiworld team revealed the sorrow, pain, anger, frustration and utter helplessness felt by the locals in the aftermath of the tragedy. The one thing they were disappointed about was the fact that though some of the HPCL company officals had visited the spot, none of them took the trouble to speak to them individually or understand what they are going through.
"Such a huge tragedy has taken place in this small village, and we are still in a shock, but for the company officals everything seems to be normal," complain the locals who were thoroughly disappointed with the reaction and response of the representatives over the issue.
“The traffic here is back to normal. Company authorities have taken our innocence for granted,” says Hakeem Kokkada, a local businessman, pointing at the umpteen number of LPG, petrol and gas cylinder vehicles that began plying on the same road less than 24 hours of the incident.
The atmosphere still carries the pungent smell of the gas and a cover of black dust and smoke has settled in the area. "We can still see the flames and smoke at a few places. We can still smell the gas leak," Hakeem adds.
"The least they (oil companies) can do is take the heavy vehicles through Mani-Puttur-Uppinanagady route to transport the LPG gas tankers until this region becomes smoke free," he suggests.
It is not just the company officials that have earned people's angst. Abdul Raheem, a resident of Perne adds, “The police and politicians have neglected our concerns. No police or security men have been deployed and there are no fire extinguishers either at the spot. We will have to go on protest if our people and concerns are neglected."
Among the lucky ones who escaped the tragedy unhurt was eyewitness Ismail Shafi, a bidi dealer, who was in his shop when the accident occured. His shop is located adjacent to the damaged houses, but fortunately, no major harm was done.
The 45-year-old Ismail, who was shocked at the sight before him, ran for his life, for nearly a kilometre up the hillock. For the next one hour, he dared not return and took refuge in the wilderness. It turned out to be a wise decision, considering the thick smoke that engulfed the area soon after the accident. "I can never forget this incident. I had the shock of my life and I kept running till I reached a safe spot. I could see the flames chasing me intially," he says, clearly indicating that is he yet to come out of the shock and fear.
He rubbished a newspaper report that blamed a stray goat for coming in the way of the tanker driver and causing the accident. "It was not a goat, but the driver's recklessness that caused the accident. He was driving at a high speed, and when he came to the turning, he lost balance and the tanker overturned," he claims.
As the news of the accident spread, hundreds of people from in and around the region gathered at the spot, and the police had a tough time controlling the crowd and ensuring that they do not get too close to the danger spot. While many joined hands and helped in the rescue efforts, what saddened the locals was that some of them got too busy clicking photographs and recording videos of the incident rather than helping the victims. Charred goat, a burnt tanker, a tempo carrying bread, burnt trees...these seemed to be capturing their attention far more than anything else, say the locals.
One of the locals even said that a person went on recording video even as the injured person he was shooting kept pleading for water. The ruins of the tragedy have become a matter of great curiosity for people in and around the region, who have been thronging the site to capture the devastation on their phones and cameras.
All the victims belong to lower middle class and poor families. Among the eight who perished was Khateejamma, who left behind five young children with no immediate family to take care of. Their father left them five years ago, and since then their mother was the sole breadwinner. She used to roll bidis to earn a livelihood, and despite all the difficulties, ensured that all her children get educated. Eldest daughter Mumtaz is in 10th, and in fact her exams are going, the next child, a son named Saleem is in 8th, then there are three girls - Mufida, Muneera and Mubeena, in 7th, 4th and 1st standard, respectively. They have no one too look after now, but now Jamiyatul Falah in Dammam, Saudi Arabia has come forward to look after their day-to-day needs for the next one year.
Another victim, Vasanth, was waiting outside a shop when the tragedy stuck. He had come there in a Maruthi Omni car to get his loan back from the shop owner. As he noticed the fire and flames, he ran for his life. However, he came back to his car and decided to save it and escape from the disaster. Unfortunately, he was caught in the fire and breathed his last in the hospital the same evening. Vasant’s younger sister, who had fainted after coming know about the tragedy, continues to be in a hospital in Mangalore.
Apart from loss of human lives, several domestic animals also died. A garage along with several two-wheelers inside was reduced to ashes, so also several houses and plantations in the area.
Meanwhile, fear continues to grip the residents as they feel that the tanker, which was still at the spot when our correspondent visited, is a threat to the area. They claimed that the tanker has four compartments filled with deadly gas, and only one of the compartments had leaked, leaving the three in high danger. The last thing anyone would want is a repeat of the tragedy.
The district branch of the Indian Red Cross Society conducted a study of the extent of financial loss the residents and victims had suffered in the incident. As per the report, the HPCL company is required to pay a sum of Rs 1,03,34,000 in all as compensation to 12, including kin of the 8 deceased persons. Already, DC Harsh Gupta has announced a compensation of Rs 1 lac to the kin of the deceased and those who sustained more than 50 percent of burn injuries, and Rs 50,000 to other injured. The DC has also warned the HPCL company of action in the matter.
While some have criticized the state government for not falling in line with Kerala government, which had announced a compensation of Rs 10 lac to each of the families of the deceased relating to a similar gas tanker tragedy near Kannur there on August 28, 2012, several others opine that the government is restrained from doing so because of the election code of conduct in operation.
Coming to terms with the catastrophe
Perne village has still a long way to go before it can come to terms with the tragedy. Power supply in the area stands cut off, and Mescom personnel have been busy laying new electric cables and erecting new electric poles within a radius of about a km in place of burnt ones. Because of the absence of electricity, drinking water problem has cropped up.
At the same time, the waste that flowed out from the ill-fated tanker, as well as the water sprayed by 11 fire tenders to douse the flames, have got mixed with mud and other effluents and contaminated the local wells. As such, water that is brought from nearby villages through the tankers is being distributed to the affected houses through tankers.
The teams of government officials and voluntary organizations had assessed the losses in the Perne tragedy at between Rs 80 lac and 1.10 crore. A team comprising of a revenue inspector and six village accountants are now busy putting together extensive details of the losses towards preparation of a report. The report thereof would be handed over to the sub-divisional officer, who will thereafter provide the details of compensation, it is gathered. The future of families who had houses in the highway margins is uncertain, as they will not be able to build back their houses at the same spot.
Those living in villages lining NH 75 between Mangalore and Bangalore are a scared lot now. They sincerely hope that the concerned will initiate added security measures to ensure that LPG does not leak out of the tankers when they meet with accidents, and also that steps to build the proposed gas pipeline would be taken up soon, so that these people will be relieved of the need to live in an environment of apprehension.