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Tuesday, Aug 26, 2003

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Blast rocks commodities markets

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The site of the bomb blast at the Gateway of India. On the right (partly visible) is the Taj Hotel. - Paul Noronha

Mumbai , Aug. 25

A POWERFUL bomb blast, just a few minutes after the first on Monday afternoon, ripped through one of Mumbai's oldest and largest commodities markets located on Yusuf Meher Ali Road, flanked by the Mumbadevi temple and Abdul Rehman Street.

The densely populated area, cluttered with scores of jewellery, shoe, watch, textile and furniture stores, is usually busy on Mondays. It was even more busy today, being the holy `Shravan Somvar' with pilgrims piling up at the temple.

And that was one reason why the damage wrought by the bomb that went off in the boot of a parked taxi at the Tambakata taxi stand, a few feet away from the temple, was intensive in terms of human life and extensive in terms of damage to the old buildings nearby, some of them about 70 years old.

Eyewitnesses said that the explosion occurred a little after 1.15 p.m.

Mr Anil Vibhakar, owner of the Sharada snack bar located a few yards from the taxi stand, was standing outside when the explosion occurred.

With a blood-stained handkerchief wrapped around his knuckles and shirt soaked in blood, he told Business Line that the explosion was deafening, numbing him for several minutes.

"The first thing I noticed was the old cobbler, who has been doing business on the road near my stall for years, curl into a ball by the impact and roll off to the other side of the road. The air was full of cries of panic-stricken people, as they began to run away from the blast site. Bodies lay all around the junction. It was then I noticed that even I was bleeding - (shards of) glass from an windowpane above my shop had struck me."

Mr Adil Abbas Punjabi, who runs the Jai Bharati shoe mart, had a similar experience. "I was dealing with a customer when the explosion happened. For a moment, we were too stunned to move. Then as I dashed out, I saw bodies and human body parts all over the place. I ran towards the Ajooba Shoe shop, as the owner is a close friend of mine. The first thing I saw was the headless body of a customer lying before the shredded entrance to the shop."

Mr Punjabi joined scores of people from nearby shops to mobilise cars and 2-wheelers to shift the injured to the JJ Hospital and GT hospital. "We just could not know who was alive or dead. There were bodies trapped inside wrecked cars and parts of human bodies lay all around," recalled the owner of a pan shop in that area.

An hour after the blast, rescue workers were still extricating parts of human bodies from the wreckage of cars and two-wheelers parked along the Yusuf Meher Ali Road.

Some 10 minutes after the blast, the police and the fire brigade arrived. The fire brigade personnel had to rescue a few people trapped inside the top floor of the 70-year old Nav Nidhan Bhavan, as a part of the staircase on the floor had given way after the blast.

The other occupants had stumbled out of the building as window-panes came crashing down in the immediate aftermath of the blast.

According to eyewitnesses, as it was lunch hour, workers and customers from the nearby shops had gathered around the snack bars and vada pav stalls near the taxi stand when the blast happened.

"These people bore the major brunt of the blast," an eyewitness said.

Traders said that the wholesale market has never been affected by violence so far. Mr Prabhu, manager of the Tirthdas furniture shop, said: "I have been working here for several years. Even when the country was rocked by riots or bomb blasts, business went on as usual."

Although his shop was close to the blast site, Mr Prabhu was unhurt. "Just the other day I received fresh stocks of furniture which we had displayed at the front entrance. The wall of furniture acted like a shield for me from the blast," he recalled.

Mumbai's resilience was reflected in the adjoining Abdul Rehman Street, where business was on as usual just minutes after the explosion.

Amid murmurs, shop owners and even push-cart vendors selling plastic products, toys and other assorted items were seen engaged in business as usual, as customers streamed in and out of the busy, congested street.

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