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December 29, 1997


The Anatomy Of The Tragedy

Grieving relatives
June 13

1515 hours: The matinee, Border, starts.

1555 hours to 1655 hours: Load shedding, but the cinema runs on a diesel generator.

1658 hours: Fire starts in the basement from the Delhi Vidyut Board transformer, due to heavy sparking. A cable detaches itself and falls down. It comes into contact with the fins of the radiator, leading to more sparking. A U-shaped hole is burnt out in a fin. Nearly 648 litres of oil oozes out from the transformer.

1700 hours to 1705 hours: A loud sound is heard and the fire is noticed. Uphaar staff try to douse it with sand. Assistant general manager K L Malhotra reaches the site and directs the staff to move the vehicles, including his car. Several cars are on fire. But the fire service department is not alerted. The show goes on.

1705 hours: Malhotra goes upstairs, collects the cash box and walks out. The staff are still fighting the fire.

1710 hours: The Delhi fire force is finally informed. The film is still running. Smoke is noticed to the left of the screen. Lights go off as generator is switched off. Exits cannot be located. No one is available to guide the patrons out. Cinema staff watch the proceedings from outside.

1716 hours: The first fire tender reaches the spot. But cannot function because its suction pump is inoperative and the hose pipe damaged. Panicked balcony patrons are still inside.

1716 hours to 1730 hours: Ambulances and more firefighting equipment arrive. But firemen are seriously hampered because of lack of equipment. Acute shortage of breathing apparatus noticed. There are no smoke extractors, or even ropes, nets or ladders!

1731 hours: Fire declared to be of medium category. Many patrons are still trapped.

1731 hours to 1750 hours: Utter chaos prevails. Police and public try to help. But there is no chain of command, no crisis management. The roads are jammed and the fire engines -- most of them arriving with faulty sirens and red lights -- find it tough getting to the spot.

1751 hours: Fire declared 'serious'. Ill-organised fire fighting continues. Firemen are not aware of the water tank in the basement. Hence, forced to replenish water supply from far off places.

1800 hours: Focused firefighting starts. Uphaar water officer reaches the spot, but does not inform the fire personnel about the location of the underground water tanks. (Allegedly, because he knew that access to these had been blocked by the management for its own reasons).

1820 hours: Fire brought under control. Rescue operations begin.

1825 hours: The first of the dead and dying brought out. And rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences...


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