WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT
By Damir Sagolj
A man wearing traditional white Pakistani clothes disappeared from the window back into the burning building. A minute later, a different man wearing black emerged from inside but it looked like someone was holding his lifeless body. The body was slowly pushed over the edge of the window and then released. Twenty seconds later the man in white came out again. He sat calmly for a few seconds in the open window with his back turned outwards and then just fell.
And that was it; both men were dead in less than a minute. After several long hours of fighting a raging fire (or were they short hours? Time gets twisted in extreme situations like this), this part of the story ended in the way I had feared from the beginning – the worst possible way. I shot pictures of people falling from the building to their deaths, of others crying on the ground, of desperate and helpless rescue workers.
It was supposed to be an easy pre-election day in Lahore. We did expect some heat as the campaign of the two main candidates was coming to an end but what happened that Thursday still haunts me without any signs of easing. What started as an easy day for me and poor government workers in their modern office building in Punjab’s capital ended with more deaths than in election violence across the country over the next few days.
Earlier in the day, just after arriving in Lahore I received a short text message saying that a fire had broke out on the seventh floor of a government building and that there could be some people trapped inside. I was on my way to the hospital where Imran Khan, the former Pakistani cricket player and rising star in politics, was recovering from an injury. He was big in the news and there was a possibility for journalists to see him but a building on fire, with people trapped inside, is always the priority. I put Imran aside for a while and headed toward the LDA Plaza.
As expected, the scene around the building was as chaotic and mad as in your darkest nightmares. The “do not cross” yellow line served only to make our pictures more dramatic. Hundreds of onlookers around the building stood in the way of already confused rescue teams showing no signs of fear or respect for the situation. Later, the rumor spread that the building had cracked and it may collapse – nobody either cared nor moved back an inch.