Kuwait fire: Malayali community comes together in time of tragedy

Six-storeyed building at Mangaf block in Kuwait's Ahmadi Governorate catches fire. Photo: Manorama News

Thiruvananthapuram: The Malayali expat community in Kuwait went through one of the most horrific days in their lives on Wednesday when 49 people, including Keralites, died in a massive fire in a building in Mangaf. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, they also showed a sense of brotherhood and grit. Many of them were woken up around 4.15 am by repeated distress calls. They were also witness to tales of survival, loss and shock. Habibulla Muchitur, a social worker from Thrissur and a photographer for the Kuwait police department, had to double up as a translator on Thursday, talking to survivors and corroborating details about the people who lost their lives.

A Filipino had the presence of mind to make a knot using three bedsheets and he abseiled down the building to safety from the fifth floor. Some others clung onto internet cables dangling outside the building to reach the ground. ''When the fire broke out on the ground floor, some of them ran upstairs to alert those staying above. When they returned, smoke had engulfed the stairs. They broke open the window and started jumping out. Several died of smoke inhalation. We could also talk to some people who actually waited inside on the upper floors, braving the heat and masking their faces with clothes to save themselves from the smoke. They sat like that until help came,'' said Habibulla.

He was late for office on Wednesday and he was rushing when he got a call from a friend alerting him about the incident. Habibulla has been in Kuwait for over two decades and he has not seen an accident of this scale. It was blazing hot in Kuwait and the Keralites made sure that the officials of fire and rescue services, police and health department were provided with water and food.

Anup Mangat, president of Kerala Art Lovers Association (Kala), Kuwait, who stays near the ill-fated building on Block 4 in Mangaf, reached the spot around 4.30 am. ''By the time we reached, the fire was spreading to the top floors. The emergency services responded very quickly. We helped with shifting the injured people to nearby hospitals. We then moved from one hospital to another, checking on the survivors. It was really hot here and the rescue personnel had a tough time, fighting the fire and taking the people out from the building to the ambulance. We tried every way to provide them with whatever support they needed,'' said Anup.

Around 23 people are in hospital. Some people who only suffered minor injuries have been discharged. According to Bijoy, joint secretary of Kala, who was also among the first responders, the camps/blocks had witnessed fire incidents before, but not of this magnitude. ''Those who are currently hospitalised are stable, save for a few who have been admitted to Intensive Care Units, where they are being provided oxygen to remedy carbon-monoxide poisoning,'' said Bijoy.

Shamsudeen Thamarakulam, a businessman and the president of the Indian Overseas Cultural Congress, Kollam chapter, hadn't met the deceased Shameer before. He received a photo on his mobile phone on Wednesday and Shamsudeen went to the hospital to identify the deceased. He had to break the terrible news to the Kollam native's relatives. ''I have been in Kuwait for 20 years and I haven't dealt with something like this. Thankfully, three people from Kollam had survived. I spoke to one of them and he said he was okay. It was such a relief to hear that,'' said Shamsudeen.

People Onmanorama spoke to barely slept last night and they had no time to rest. DNA verification was going on. There are still missing people. All that is left is their civil IDs. Many of them lost their mobile phones in the fire. ''I will have to go to the hospital again to help with other procedures,'' said Shamsudeen.

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