the people of Bhopal,
the night of 2nd/3rd December 1984
is known simply as 'That Night'
During the last few minutes of Sunday 2nd December 1984, a
deeply poisonous gas, methyl-isocyanate (MIC) began leaking
from a massive storage tank at Union Carbide's pesticide factory
in Bhopal. Not one of the factory's safety systems was working.
The refrigeration unit which should have cooled the tank had
been switched off months earlier to save $37.68 per day on
freon coolant, the vent gas scrubber was partially dismantled.
The warning siren was switched off, the flare tower was inadequate
to cope with the volume of gases, superheated to 400†C, that
were rushing through pipes at 180 mph blistering and charring
paintwork, exploding into the night air. The factory did not
have sufficient water pressure for fire hoses to be sprayed
on the escaping gases, so the reaction continued until the
huge tank, as big as a locomotive, was empty and 40 tonnes
of lethal MIC and other reaction products had bucketed out
into the night air over the sleeping city.
ACCOUNTS OF "THAT NIGHT"
felt like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies,
our eyes were crying, noses were watering, we had froth in
our mouths. The coughing was so bad that people were writhing
in pain. Some people just got up and ran in whatever clothes
they were wearing or even if they were wearing none at all.
Somebody was running this way and somebody was running that
way, some people were just running in their underclothes.
People were only concerned as to how they would save their
lives so they just ran. Those who fell were not picked up
by anybody, they just kept falling, and they were trampled
on by other people. In the crowd of people even cows were
running and trying to save their lives and crushing people
as they ran. People climbed and scrambled over each other
to save their lives - even vehicles were crushing people."
Champa Devi Shukla
Sultan was pregnant on "that night". Here is an
extract from her account of what happened to her and her family.
Read the full story here.
about 12.30 am I woke to the sound of Ruby coughing badly.
The room was not dark, there was a street light nearby. In
the half light I saw that the room was filled with a white
cloud. I heard a great noise of people shouting. They were
yelling bhaago, bhaago (run, run). Mohsin started
coughing too and then I started coughing with each breath
seeming as if we were breathing in fire . . .
The family were coughing and
groaning. We tried closing all the doors and windows to stop
more gas from coming in, but the room was already full of
white clouds. My son Mohsin stopped groaning, he fell unconscious.
My mother-in-law suggested that all of us should go to the
Hamidia hospital . . .
It was very cold outside but
we were not feeling cold at all. We went out in our night
clothes with nothing else to cover ourselves. Not even our
dupattas or burkhas were with us. It was around 1.30 a.m.
by then. We left without shutting or locking the house, nothing
mattered but to run.
in the lane, it appeared that a large number of people had
passed that way. Lots of shoes and shawls and other clothes
were strewn about. White clouds enveloped everything. Streetlights
looked like points of light. Our family got split up. One
of my sisters-in-law ran one way and the rest of us towards
the main street. I saw lots and lots of people running, screaming
for help, vomiting, falling down, unconscious.
RAGHU RAI, MAGNUM
terrifying yet tender picture has become the icon of the Bhopal
disaster and is the symbol of the justice campaign. It was
taken on the morning after the night of gas by Magnum photographer
Raghu Rai, who had flown from Delhi when news of the catastrophe
reached the capital. He was standing by the grave with another
photographer, Pablo Bartholomew, whose pictures may also be
seen on this website. The father of the child, having covered
her with earth, could not bear to say goodbye, and gently
brushed away the earth for a last look at his daughter. Raghu
told us that both he and Pablo were in tears. Had they not
been in the city that morning, it is possible that we may
never have seen for ourselves how hideous was the fate visited
on the people of Bhopal. No film exists of the event, there
were no TV cameras to record the death throes of the poor
neighbourhoods which had gone to sleep early that Sunday night
because the people had to go to their jobs, which were mostly
hard physical labout, in the morning. For thousands, the morning
TAKEN BY RAGHU & PABLO