Vanish! The Eden box in the wind
Calcutta, April 24: A makeshift structure from where police were supposed to keep vigil collapsed on spectators at the Eden Gardens tonight as the season's first Nor'wester struck at 74km an hour before the start of the aborted IPL match.
No police personnel were inside the box, though it carries the high-sounding name "the venue operation centre", when the storm flattened it. The structure was to the left of the fabled Club House.
Neither were there personnel from the PWD and other agencies like the CAB, CMC and the CESC, for whose better co-ordination the plywood-and-glass structure, propped by bamboo poles, was set up in J Block.
Instead, three Shah Rukh Khan fans from Purulia and North Dinajpur, who had taken shelter from the rain inside the air-conditioned room with closed-circuit TV screens, suffered minor injuries.
They were among several people who had run into the box: six got trapped under the debris after the collapse but three of them escaped unhurt. The rest of the spectators in the roofless J Block had scurried for cover under the concrete stands.
None of the three victims was seriously injured. Sourav Chowdhury from Purulia and Biswajit Basu Majumdar and Suvrojit Mukhuti from North Dinajpur were hospitalised with pain all over their body. But doctors at the CMRI declared them safe after a round of tests and let them go home.
"There is no shade over J Block. So they ran into the venue operation centre as soon as it started raining heavily. Suddenly, the structure crashed," said Rathin Roy, who had come with a gang of 27 friends from North Dinajpur.
Many spectators at the ground wondered what the impact would have been had the block not emptied out. "I heard a loud thud and found the white box (the venue operation centre) tilted sideways. There were people trapped inside," said Riaz Mali, 23, a trader from Dankuni who had run down for cover instead of going up.
Bits and pieces of information and a rush of rumours about an ambulance with flashing beacon and people running with stretchers soon made it to cyberspace, and tweets and Facebook updates outpaced the events on the ground.
But it was no less dramatic at the venue, where a police officer said he saw the box shake with the wind. "When it started raining, people in our block took shelter under the gallery. The plywood-and-glass box started shaking. It was soon thrown sideways. Although most of the people inside managed to come out before the box was reduced to a bare bamboo structure, some were trapped," said an officer posted in J Block.
Eden missed hosting the top-billed India-England World Cup tie last summer because of unfinished repairs but when it emerged ready finally, it did impress many with a glass façade and coloured chairs. Tonight's squall yet again showed up the incompetence in lending a decent finishing touch.
Several rounds of inspections by the police and PWD officials had taken place in the run-up to IPL V but it apparently did not strike anybody that the box to make matches hassle-free could itself be a hazard.
Many spectators asked why such a structure had been allowed to hang over the heads of hundreds of paying spectators. Some wondered why anyone thought bamboo poles were sufficient to hold up such a structure.
Meteorologists said that in vast, open spaces like the Eden Gardens, winds can wreak havoc even without the speeds hitting alarming levels. "The wind flow is virtually unrestricted (in open spaces). As a result, the wind speed in Eden today would have felt like 94kmph, though it was 74kmph," said a Met official.
Tonight's was not the strongest squall this season. On April 4, on the eve of the KKR's first home match, a squall had clocked 96kmph.
The IPL calendar coincides with the squall season in eastern India but the organisers don't seem to have factored that possibility in.
Cricket Association of Bengal joint secretary Biswarup Dey said: "We had hired one of the best contractors — KD Sett — to construct the VOC. It was a mere accident."
"The structure had been cleared by the PWD and the police for use during the IPL," Dey added.
CAB president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who visited the injured in hospital, said: "It was a minor accident and the injuries were also minor. The CAB made sure that they were admitted to a good hospital. Their treatment is paid for."