Pandu Ranga Reddy
did not notice the bicycle parked in front of the A1 Mirchi centre, the
roadside snack bar in Hyderabad’s Dilsukhnagar where he and two of his friends
had repaired in the evening. The Mirchi centre in front of Konark theatre had
attracted the usual peak hour crowd that doesn’t thin out till dark. Anyway,
there was nothing remarkable about the old Atlas-make cycle parked among dozens
of other two wheelers. According to police reports, CCTV cameras covering the
area showed a cyclist clad in a T-shirt entering the Konark theatre lane around
6.30 p.m. He waited at the traffic umbrella and then moved towards the theatre.
Police say the footage showed a plastic bag dangling from the rear carrier. The cyclist was accompanied by a pedestrian, who later dropped out of sight of the camera. Strapped to the rear was an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) with the timer set to a few minutes after 7 p.m.
Dilsukhnagar is a hub for educational institutes, especially private coaching centres for engineering subjects. Pandu Ranga, his cousin Mohan Reddy and a friend, Rajendra, were returning from a coaching class. The three engineering students reached the theatre some time before 7 p.m. They did not plan to stay there long. A quick snack and the three friends would separate and head home. Pandu Ranga, who is from Nalgonda district in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, stays in a rented room in Swaroop Nagar. He intended to take a bus. The friends paid for the snacks and were leaving when they heard the first explosion.
Around 7 o’ clock, a loud explosion from the direction of the Dilsuknagar bus stand disrupted traffic in front of the theatre. In a moment, chaos enveloped the crowd of pedestrians, bystanders and motorists. There were scattered shouts that a transformer had exploded. Other voices shouted that a gas cylinder had exploded. Deciding that it was time to move , Pandu Ranga turned and walked away from the Mirchi Centre, his friends following behind. It was a mistake.
In taking those few steps Panduranga had cut down the distance between himself and the cycle carrying the IED. Six to 10 minutes after 7 p.m., the device went off and a powerful second explosion ripped through the area. Shrapnel from the bomb casing ripped through the flesh of men, women and children who collapsed like nine pins. Mohan Reddy and Rajendra escaped the worst. Their injuries were comparatively minor. Panduranga, however, had walked towards the blast wave, and deadly projectiles flying from the bomb tore through his face, arms and limbs. He remembers blinding pain and falling forward among a heap of bodies.
“I tried to turn and look for my friends. I couldn’t see them. There were dead and injured people all around me. Both my legs were bleeding. I screamed for help for several minutes. Then some young men came and pulled me off the road,” he says.
Though his injuries were extensive, Pandu Ranga did not lose consciousness. He vividly recalls the scenes of chaos: The near-stampede as panicked people fled helter-skelter fearing another blast, ambulances with blaring sirens that reached the spot a few minutes later and the white police jeeps with men in khaki. As police struggled to clear the traffic, some of the more stout-hearted bystanders helped the injured.
Soon, helping hands led Pandu Ranga towards an ambulance. But the ambulance was full and he was turned away. In a few minutes, a passing autorickshaw was flagged down and the strangers assisted Pandu Ranga into it.
“I told the driver
that I had ₹100 in my pocket and that he could have it if he wanted. I told him
to take me to Yashoda hospital in Malakpet. He wanted to take me to Osmania
hospital. But I told him to take me to Yashoda. I knew it was nearer.” That
decision ultimately saved Pandu Ranga’s life.
At Yashoda hospital,
the day was drawing to a close for Dr Surendra Reddy, one of the general
surgeons on duty. He usually ended his shift at eight, but that day he was
planning to leave at seven and head out to Dilsukknagar. He wanted to visit the
Sai Baba temple there. It was ten minutes to 7 p.m. If he had left, he might
have been one of the victims of the twin explosions.
But one of his patients was serious and he was attending to him when the news of the blast came in. His first reaction was one of relief. Then the professional in him took over. As he watched the news of the suspected terror attacks scrolling on news channels, his mind was trying to assess the situation. Dilsukhnagar was barely 2 km from the Malakpet hospital. In a matter of minutes, patients would start arriving. There was no information about the intensity of the blasts or the number of victims. They could be dealing with anything from a few minor burns and flesh injuries to a mass disaster with multiple kinds of injuries. They had to be prepared for any scenario. Luckily, they had a plan in place.
Dr S S Kumar was in-charge of the emergency ward that day. As soon as he heard the news, he rang the medical administrator-in-charge of the hospital on his personal mobile. Dr Kumar had come to the same conclusion as Dr Reddy. They had no information on the scale of the crisis, but any time lost would prove crucial if they were faced with a massive influx of patients.
The hospital had taken patients during the terror strikes in Gokul Chat Bhandar and Lumbini Park in August 2007. However, because of the distance, only a few patients with relatively minor injuries were brought to the hospital. In 2011, the Yashoda hospital group received accreditation from the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals (NABHR).
In a matter of minutes, patients would start arriving. There was no information about the intensity of the blasts or the number of victims. They could be dealing with anything from minor burns and flesh injuries to a mass disaster with multiple kinds of injuries. They had to be prepared for any scenario. Luckily, they had a plan in place.
Under NABHR guidelines, the hospital had put in place an emergency plan for disasters called “Code Red”. He intended to set the plan into operation. Once the medical administrator gave formal approval, Dr Kumar informed the communications room that the hospital was at Code Red.
At 7.11p.m by the hospital’s clocks, the Public Address (PA) System started blaring out the alert message “Code Red. Bomb blast at Dilsukhnagar.” The message was repeated at 20-second intervals, signalling personnel of all departments to initiate pre-arranged procedures for the emergency.
In imitation of
military parlance, the core medical team responsible for Code Red was named the
Rapid Action Medical Team. It had 15 surgeons, consisting of general surgeons,
plastic surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons and orthopaedic surgeons. Also there
were anaesthetists, trauma-care specialists and specialists in branches like
Once the announcement came over the PA system, members of the team started coming down to the emergency ward. Around 25 doctors were on duty, and many of them called off-duty colleagues informing them about the emergency. Once Code Red was announced, two operators in the communications room started calling doctors and other staff, including many on their way home after work.
In the next 15 minutes, doctors, nurses, attenders, security and house-keeping staff would leave their homes in various parts of the city for the hospital. Many of them had heard the news on television and come in on their own. Among those who got a call at home was Dr Sreekanth Reddy, senior doctor in charge of the emergency. He had already caught the news on television when hospital security confirmed the bomb blast at Dilsukhnagar. Within minutes he was driving to Malakpet. Dr Reddy was in charge of the periodic mock drills the hospital conducted as training for Code Red situations. Every three months, a surprise practice drill would be organised by Dr Reddy, with hospital staff smeared with artificial blood playing the role of patients.
The hospital had last conducted such a mock drill in December. In the imaginary scenario, a bomb blast had taken place in the afternoon. Ambulances from the hospital had rushed to site to collect the 15 hospital staff who were playing the blast victims. In the hospital Code Red was on. The casualty assessment of this exercise was eerily close to the February 21 mark. In the mock drill the hospital had prepared itself for an blast in Dilsukhnagar.
While Dr Kumar and
his team attended to a couple of patients already present in the casualty and
moved them to the general ward, to clear beds for the arrival of the patients,
other hospital departments were also swinging into action. The nursing
superintendent had been informed of Code Red and extra nursing staff were
called up from the nearby hospital’s nurses’ hostel.
The security staff began clearing the waiting area of the hospital as well as forming a cordon around the hospital. Vinod Kumar, the chief security officer, had set the wheels in motion the moment he heard the news. A few minutes before Code Red was announced, Vinod had assembled his team of 60 security guards and sent them to their various stations. Extra manpower had been requisitioned, and 40 off-duty guards would reach within half-an-hour.
With the blast site so near, Vinod expected crowd control to be his major problem. He deputed Rajiv, one of his subordinates, to stand by the entrance with a digital camera and photograph the patients as they were brought in. These photographs would be displayed on the help desk computer for the help of people seeking out their friends or relatives among the blast victims.
The first patient came in at 7.16 p.m. The hospital received 16 more patients in the next 45 minutes. Most came in auto rickshaws or private vehicles. A few were brought by ambulance. One patient with minor injuries, who refused to be admitted overnight, was discharged after treatment.
The housekeeping department was also following the same procedure. Ayahs, ward boys, couriers and cleaners already present at the hospital were given specific tasks to support the doctors, while more staff were called up by the communications personnel. Stretchers, wheelchairs and trolleys were frantically rushed to the ramp outside the hospital entrance and attenders stood there ready to move patients to the emergency ward.
Once security staff had cleared the waiting area of people, the housekeeping staff moved in. The rows of black metal chairs, which out-patients waited in for consultations, were briskly moved off. At the rear of the waiting area, standing against the wall were two grey, metal cupboards. They contained emergency medical supplies meant for Code Red. It was stocked with basic medicines like painkillers, tetanus shots and antibiotics, besides IV fluids, stitches, cotton rolls, bandages and so on.
As the chairs were being moved, the support staff was bringing in beds, bed stands and IV stands. The main emergency room had six beds. As part of Code Red, the waiting area would be converted into a second emergency room that could house up to 12 patients. The chairs had just been taken away when the first patient arrived in an autorickshaw.
Attendants loaded the bloodied body of the young woman on to a stretcher and almost ran to the emergency room. A call from the help desk alerted Dr Kumar and the emergency room staff. It was 7.16 p.m.