Amid the din and clamour of Ganpati immersions at Girgaum Chowpatty last evening, devotees who were swimming in the waters to send off the lord were blinded by shooting pains in their feet and legs. Over the evening, 57 devotees were wheeled into different city hospitals, writhing in agony. They learnt much later that they were unwitting victims of a stingray attack.
“I was holding our small Ganpati idol. A few minutes after stepping into ankle-deep water, I felt something bite my left foot. I didn’t even get to see what it was, as the pain was so agonising,” moaned Rahul Naik (18). He was one of the 38 people admitted to the civic-run Nair hospital around 8 pm. “At first, I thought a crab had bit my leg. It felt like a jolt of electricity ran up my leg after I was bit, but I didn’t get to see it,” he added.
A doctor from the hospital said that the nature of injuries seen on the patients indicated that a non-poisonous stingray had stung all the 38 patients. “We administered pain killers to all the patients and controlled the bleeding. They are all stable now, as the stingrays were not poisonous and have been kept under observation,” said Dr M Shah, deputy dean of Nair hospital.
While one victim was admitted to the state-run JJ hospital, 11 others were undergoing treatment in GT Hospital. Seven children were admitted in Cama hospital. Rajeev Sangle (30) said, “It was around 6.30 pm when I was knee-deep in water for immersion.
All of a sudden, I felt this thin tentacle-like thing pierce my ankle. The pain was so intense that I almost fainted. I started bleeding profusely. I didn’t get to see what had attacked us, even though there was still daylight. While Rahul was stung almost an hour after the first attack, he claimed that no one had informed him about the same and warned him to stay away from the water. “I take part in the idol immersions every year and this is the first time we have experienced something this unpleasant.
I had no idea that some sea creatures were attacking people,” he said. Babloo Chavan (34) said that though people were being given first aid for stingray bites from 6.30 pm, those who arrived later were not warned. “I have never heard of this before but was unfortunate enough to experience such pain which was followed by bleeding around my right foot.”
Deepak Apte, chief operating officer at BNHS and a marine ecologist said, “The individual who has suffered a wound from the stingray should be first taken to the hospital. Usually, it is not fatal, but the wound can cause a lot of pain, and so the injured person should pour hot water of 33 Celsius on the wound for an hour, which will cause the pain to decrease. If the injured person has any skin allergy, he or she should take more care.”
“We have deployed five ambulances at Girgaum Chowpatty and restricted devotees from entering the water or even walk on the shore. About 45 people have been shifted to Nair hospital and our medical team is also present near Chowpatty for first aid,” said PR Masurkar, assistant municipal commissioner, D ward.
When stingrays attack!
>> Stingrays are considered by most experts to be docile creatures, only attacking in self-defence.
>> Most stingray-related injuries to humans occur to the ankles and lower legs, when someone accidentally steps on a ray buried in the sand and the frightened fish flips up its dangerous tail.
>> Stingray-related fatalities (in humans) are extremely rare, partly because a stingray’s venom, while extraordinarily painful, isn’t usually deadly - unless the initial strike is to the chest or abdominal area.
>> When threatened, the stingray begins its tail whip; the barbs on the spines tear through the thin tissue of the integumentary sheath, and the spines jut out at an angle that’s nearly perpendicular to the tail.
>> Once the stingray is in motion, its tail becomes a whiplike weapon with a poisonous nail sticking out of it.
>> The venom, contained in the mucuslike coating over the barb, is introduced into the body through the wound.
Stingray’s famous victim: ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin
In September 2006, television personality and environ-mentalist Steve Irwin died from a stingray wound while filming off north Queensland, Australia. The 44-year-old’s heart was pierced by the serrated, poisonous spine of a stingray as he swam with the creature while shooting a new TV show on the Great Barrier Reef.
This has been a horrifying experience for me as I always come here for immersions and nothing of this sort was ever noticed. While I was emerging from the water, something bit me. Within minutes, my leg went numb and started bleeding.
- Prashant Padam, victim
I was very excited, having come to Mumbai from Rajasthan specially for this festival - and this happened to me. It is paining a lot and I cannot explain the way it bit me. I was about to faint. First aid treatment at the right time saved me, but I won’t be allowed to go home now, like I want to.
- Ramsingh Rajput, a native of Rajasthan who had come here for the festival
This started around 7 in the evening when everyone was busy immersing their idols. Earlier we didn’t think it was a big problem. Soon, six people fainted. When about 10-20 people had been affected, the disaster control team started announcing on their public announcement system not to go deep into the water. According to the doctors I have spoken to, it is not sure how poisonous these fish are, as not much research has been done in India on them.
- Pradeep Patade, a volunteer present at the spot
We are trying to control the situation by stopping people from going into the water and also asking them to take precautions like wearing gum boots. But people prefer not to wear boots when they go to immerse idols. Hence we are stopping them and warning them about the situation, so they have the choice of choosing a different spot.
- A BMC official present on immersion duty