HYDERABAD: When the phone at Dharavath Sundar Naik’s house rang on Thursday night, family members could hear a choked voice on the other end – “This may be the last time I am speaking to you.” Naik was one of the nine people, including a woman engineer, who died when a fire broke out in the 900MW Srisailam Left Bank Hydel Power Station (SLBHP) in Telangana. Eight others were injured in the accident.
Though the fire started at 10.30pm on Thursday, the bodies trapped inside were retrieved from the underground power plant of the Telangana State Power Generation Corporation (TSGenco) – located about 220km from Hyderabad – on Friday afternoon.
Engulfed in thick smoke and choking every second, some of the trapped engineers inside the power station bid their final goodbyes to their families. While some like Naik could call, some made videos showing how they were trying to put out the fire. Seven of the nine dead are TSGenco employees.
“I may or may not be able to come back home. The situation is bad and difficult. It looks impossible for us to get out of this. Take care of the children…,” Naik, an assistant engineer at SLBHP, told his family. Near the plant, his family waited in hope that he would be rescued. His body was finally brought out 16 hours after he last spoke to his wife. Naik, a resident of Suryapet, was also a Covid-19 warrior. “It was 20 days ago that he recovered and joined back duties,” a friend told on phone.
Officials supervising rescue operations said the fire could have been sparked by a short circuit in one of the electric panels of the power house and spread to other parts. “Thick smoke engulfed the 1.2-km-long tunnel leading to the plant, making it difficult for rescue teams to reach the place where the blaze started. There are two exit routes from which eight employees escaped while nine others died trying to douse the fire and save the power plant,” said Telangana energy minister G Jagadish Reddy.
Naik had called his family from a landline in the power plant. Divisional engineer Srinivas Goud also called up his family to describe how bad the situation was inside. A senior official also received a call from one of the engineers, pleading for help. “If in 10 minutes you cannot rescue us, we will die. So, if you can do something, do it quickly,” the official quoted the engineer as having said.
“There was no power. We did not know where to go but slowly some of us found our way to the exit gate and could get out,” an employee said. He was among the six who were hospitalised.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao ordered two inquiries – one by CID and another by top TSGenco officials. He also announced Rs 50 lakh ex gratia to divisional engineer Srinivas Goud’s family and announced Rs 25 lakh each for the families of other victims.