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SHILLONG | Nov 17, 2019:

The local residents of Qualapatty in Shillong have expressed their anguish over the “negligence” of the State Fire Services, which they claimed had led to the untimely death of an elderly couple in a raging fire which engulfed the century-old building of the Church of God today morning.

The Church of God building and another adjoining house at Qualapatty in Shillong were reduced to ashes in a raging fire which took place in the wee hours of November 17. It was informed that an elderly couple and their dog were killed in the fire incident.

According to the Rangbah Shnong of Qualapatty, Martamlin Pyrbot, the moment he heard about the incident, he rushed to the spot and saw a huge flame engulfing the Church building. “I saw a traffic personnel who was present there and asked him to call the fire service. He told me that he had already contacted them and is awaiting for them to arrive. I was informed that the call was made one hour back but no one turned up.”

Church Building up in flames (PC: Abdul Jyrwa)

Pyrbot has blamed the delay of the fire services for the lost of two precious lives in the fire incident. “We will convene a meeting within this week to discuss on the future course of action to ensure that similar incidents doesn’t happen again; to make sure that public service agencies respond to the need of the citizens,” said the headman.

“If we have to write to the Chief Minister also to get the government’s attention, we will. We will decide all this in the meeting,” added Pyrbot.

Similarly, the local residents also blamed the delay of the fire services for the death of the two persons. “This happened because of the negligence of the fire service; Because they didn’t reach on time; the fire spread to the house of those people who lost their lives today,” one of the local residents told TNT-The Northeast Today.

Burnt house of the couple who lost their lives (PC: B Lyngdoh)

She said that if the fire services had reached on time, the disaster could have been averted and the elderly couple could have been saved.

She further informed that despite repetitive attempts by the local people to contact the fire station, no one picked up the phone and claimed that there was an instance where someone picked up the call but disconnected immediately after picking it up.

“We tried calling the police stations, the fire services but no one responded. This is very unfortunate. It was only after someone from the locality went to the station physically, that the fire brigades were rushed to the spot and that was after 1 hour since the fire started; we called them at 4.20 am but they reached at 5.30 am” she said.

Century Old structure of Church of God in Qualapatty (Parent Church) PC: Abdul Jyrwa

Lashing out at the authorities concerned, another local resident said, “After the personnel of the fire station arrived, we tried to tell them to douse the flame on the other side of the building since it was spreading to the nearby house; but they refused to listen to us and said that the fire will not spread to other places. But it was only a matter of time when the entire roof of the nearby house was burnt down killing a 55-year-old T Basaiawmoit and 70-yr-old R Laloo including their dog.”

Earlier, East Khasi Hills Deputy Commissioner, Matsiewdor War, who reached the spot in the morning, had stated that the delay of the fire brigades to reach the location was because of the narrowness of the roads and lanes in Qualapatty.

Reacting to this, the angry residents said, “The government can’t say that because our roads are narrow, the trucks couldn’t reach the spot. The government should have been prepared and ready with smaller trucks to fit the narrow roads. You can’t say because the roads are narrow, we will have to leave a person there to die; that is very wrong.”

What is left of the Church (PC: B Lyngdoh)

It may be mentioned that this is not a one-off incident in the locality. Few years ago, a transformer caught fire and almost engulf the entire block only because of the delay of the MeECL authorities to respond to the SOS messages of the people.

“It was 6-7 years back when a small spark was visible at a transformer; and since we stay near the transformer, we tried calling the MeECL and they assured us that they will rush to the spot. But after one hour also, they didn’t come and then all of a sudden the spark spread and a massive flame started engulfing the entire transformer. It was only then that they came. But luckily, no one was injured at that time,” said a member of the Seng Lonkmie of Qualapatty.

“As a resident of Shillong, I request the government agencies — Police, Fire Services, MeECL to at least pick up the calls. We don’t call for fun; we only call during emergencies,” said a concerned resident of the locality.

Meanwhile, the Church authorities have expressed their sadness over the incident. “It is a sad day for the congregation. I was informed about the delay of the fire services to reach the spot. Until the time I reached the Church at 4 pm, the fire brigades haven’t turned up despite several attempts to reach them,” said Pastor R Imiong of the Church of God Qualapatty.

Being a Sunday, the Church services continued despite the tragedy. Pastor Imiong said that they conducted the services at the premises of the JJM Nicholas Roy’s school near the Church. “As of now, we haven’t decided on a new venue to hold the services but presently, we are using the basket ball court of the school as our temporary venue,” he added.

When asked about the reason which caused the fire, Pastor Imiong said that they are unsure about the reason though there were told that the flame started from the basement of the Church where the repair work is being done.

“Our Church is under repair. We had just fixed the tin roofs last year and at present, the interior of the Church is under repair. I was told that maybe some of the workers had light a fire but forgot to put it out causing the flame to spread,” he said.

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