Assam Northeast Reel

Fire ravaging home a bigger threat than COVID: displaced in OIL Well fire

-Avishek Sengupta

The global pandemic COVID-19, or the norms it demands – wearing masks, sanitising hands, maintaining a metre distance – are least of the bothers for those who took refuge at Kordoiguri…their homes, about 15 km away in Baghjan may have been burnt already.

“We don’t know in which state we will find our houses, or if, it was still standing. We spent last night sleepless looking at the fire in the distance that may also have gutted down our homes,” said a teenage girl with her mask clung to her chin.

A group of 20-30 people have gathered round shoulder to shoulder of which, hardly 5-6 were wearing their masks who, along the girl, took refuge in Kordoiguri Higher Secondary School after the fire broke down on the Oil India Limited owned gas well at Baghjan on Tuesday.

For the villagers of Baghjan , Tuesday was like any of the days in the last two weeks, – a deafening sound of well killing machines, a well uncontrollably spewing foul smelling gas, sounds of cars rushing in and out and their yields in kitchen gardens going green to pale.

“We were having lunch when someone informed that the well caught fire. We left mid lunch; got hold of whatever little cash and precious things we had and rushed out. Couldn’t even lock our doors,” a 45-year old woman said.

The well, located in the vicinity of few residential colonies, a water body and about a kilometre from Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, had been leaking gas “uncontrollably” after a blowout incident on May 27.

Those displaced on Tuesday have been kept in three facilities – Kordoiguri HS School, Model English School and another in Bandarkhati High School. In a last minute preparation, beds are arranged snug close to each other inside the classrooms.

“Forget COVID precautions, we aren’t even provided food timely. We had come in the afternoon and had little dinner at 11.30 at night. Most kids have slept of exhaustion hungry by then. In the morning, only black tea and few biscuits” said a man in late 50’s in Kordoiguri HS School.

A 35 year old man kept in the ME School, said, “Now, the situation has transgressed beyond requesting phase…we demand compensation and shut down of all sorts of OIL operations in Baghjan.”

While most have “accepted their fate” and chose to wait in the camps till the fire is doused and see what the government will provide, many has already started to move out to the nearest relative’s place seeking refuge.

“Anywhere, will be better than this. When the fire is doused, we will return. If we can restart, then we will, or else, we will have to move on,” a father with a children holding hand, said.

OIL, in a release on Wednesday have mentioned that over 1,600 families have been kept in at least 12 relief camps spread at a distance safe from the OIL well.

Baghjan oil well fire

Sources in Tinsukia administration, told, “Thankfully, there had been no sign of community transmission of COVID-19 in Tinsukia since the outbreak of the pandemic in the state on March 31. The state has recorded a large number of cases, but most were those among quarantined. Or else, such mass confinement of people in the relief camps where people flouting social distancing norms and leaving or coming over in their will, would have been catastrophic.”

Assam has recorded over 3000 cases of which atleast 1980 are active.

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