KOLKATA: Seventy-year-old Reena Basu was wheeled out of the fourth-floor ITU ( intensive therapy unit) a little after 9.30am. With an oxygen mask clasped on her face and a saline tube attached to her feeble arm, she was still gasping for breath when a few locals barged into the smoke-filled ITU and brought her out.
With daughter-in-law Sutapa running along the stretcher, she was shifted to the unaffected Block-I. She was put on a new oxygen mask, but it was too late. Within minutes, her breathing turned heavy before slowly ebbing away. "It was just murder. Mass murder. They killed her and the others brutally. No serious effort was made to save the helpless patients. My mother-in-law couldn't even get up on her bed. None of the staff made an attempt to break into the ITU and save the patients," said Sutapa, crying inconsolably at the haemodialysys unit of block I, where bodies were piled up.
Pradip Sarkar had been pacing up and down near AMRI late on Thursday night when he saw smoke billowing out. The guards asked Sarkar not to raise an alarm and assured him it was a minor blaze.
But the smell was getting stronger and the smoke thicker. Sarkar pleaded with the guards to allow him inside and shift his ailing father-in-law who was on the fourth floor. "But they were adamant and refused to let me go near the gate. I then requested them to at least hurry up the rescue operation. By then, around a hundred people from the Panchanantala slum had scaled the boundary wall and gathered on the compound. And by the time they could force into the building, the lights had been switched off. I groped my way to the ground floor but couldn't proceed further. It was dark and the smoke was choking," said Sarkar. Six hours later, when rescuers could reach his father-in-law Jawaharlal Ganguly, he was dead.
"The utter callousness of the authorities and the guards was shocking. They made no effort at all to hasten things up. We could hear patients screaming from the floors above. Some were even banging on the glass windows and trying to break them open. The guards should have swung into action immediately. Instead, they kept warding us off, giving us false hopes. My father-in-law and scores of others could have been saved had they acted promptly," alleged Sarkar, holding back tears.
Sujoy Roy's eyes were expressionless as he held on to his sobbing mother on the pathway leading to the hospital. His wife Priyanka-a cancer patient-was on the fourth floor ITU when smoke engulfed the unit. "She is still inside. They didn't let me in...." he said. Residents of Berhampore, the Roys had got Priyanka admitted on December 5 with an infected throat. She underwent chemotherapy this week and had been steadily recovering. "She would have been discharged soon. She could have been saved," Sujoy mumbled.