This is the story you hear again and again in Bhopal. A terror experienced individually, shared by thousands. People woke in darkness with an invisible fire searing their eyes and lungs.
Aziza Sultan is a staff member at the Sambhavna Clinic. On that night she was a young mother expecting her third child. This her personal account of a truly terrifying ordeal.
I woke coughing badly. In the half light the room was filled with a white cloud. I heard a great noise of people shouting. ‘Run, run’. My eyes were burning. Each breath felt as if I was breathing in fire.
Mohsin, my baby son, began to cough. All our family were coughing and groaning. The house was already full of white mist. My mother-in-law said we must go to Hamidia hospital. I carried Mohsin on my hip and took hold of my little daughter Ruby’s hand. My sister-in-law was holding two children and my father-in-law lifted up his favourite grandson who was five years old.
Screaming for help we went out in our night clothes. Nothing else. It was very cold but we did not feel it. We didn’t shut the house, nothing mattered but to run.
Outside in the lane, it appeared that a large number of people had passed that way. Shoes, slippers and shawls were strewn about. A thick white cloud enveloped everything, reducing the streetlamps to dim points of light. Our family got split up. One sister-in-law ran one way and the rest of us another. I saw lots and lots of people running, they were screaming for help, vomiting, falling down, unconscious. We’d gone about 500 metres when my father-in-law saw a truck and told us to climb on We couldn’t and in the confusion instead of lifting up his grandson Mansoor, he grabbed another little boy who was running around on his own.
My mother-in-law was vomiting. She was a heart patient and Hamidia hospital was still two kilometres away, much of it uphill. Mohsin was still unconscious. Ruby was holding on to my tunic, she did not once let go. We walked another 500 metres and came to the Bhopal Talkies crossing. Mohsin was being sick on me. Ruby was also vomiting. We had just one thought, to reach Hamidia.
At the Bhopal Talkies crossing we all fell on the ground and just lay there. I was two months pregnant and to my horror and shame I felt myself having a miscarriage right there in the middle of the street.
What is happening? We couldn’t talk to each other or even see, our eyes were so bad.We were wondering what had gone wrong, who had done this. We had no idea that there was a gas leak from Union Carbide. We realised that if we remained at the Bhopal Talkies crossing we would die because we could see so many people lying on the ground who appeared to be dead.
Trucks overflowing with people were passing. Somehow we got back to our feet. My body was covered with blood. Blood was all over me. I couldn’t control my bowels and the faeces ran down my legs, mixing with the blood.
We took the Safia College road and walked about half a kilometer. There we saw a moving vehicle, a large three-wheeler, crawling slowly up a hill. It was already crowded, full of people. We managed to climb on board and I fell on to some man’s lap. I was covered with my blood and faeces and vomit from my children.
At the top of the hill the vehicle gave way under the weight of people. We started walking again and got to Hamidia hospital at about 2 or 2.30 am. Mohsin was unconscious, Ruby was still clinging to my kurta. There was no one to ask for help so we went on towards Kamla Park, as everyone was running that way.
You can read the complete Bhopal Marathon publication online here