Dominique Lapierre Pens a Book on Bhopal Tragedy

Work Focuses on 1984 Disaster in India

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PARIS, MAR. 18, 2001 ( The 1984 Bhopal, India, catastrophe has become the subject of a new book by French writer Dominique Lapierre, author of the best seller “The City of Joy.”

“Il était minuit cinq à Bhopal” (“It Was Five Minutes Past Midnight in Bhopal”) will be presented at a press conference Monday.

A gas leak at the Union Carbide plant on the night of Dec. 2-3, 1984, caused between 16,000 and 30,000 dead and about half a million injured in this capital of the northern state of Madya Pradesh.

Lapierre, who, together with Larry Collins, is the author of world best sellers such “Is Paris Burning?” and “O Jerusalem,” says his confrontation with the reality of Bhopal was one of the greatest traumas of his life. Thanks to the money he earned from the rights of authorship and the generosity of readers of “The City of Joy” and “A Thousand Suns,” he has been able to open a clinic in that city and live with the people.

Lapierre wrote his new book with the help of Spanish writer Javier Moro, author of a book on the drama of Tibet. Together they began to investigate the causes of the Bophal accident, and to find out who was involved and who were the victims. The work took the writers three years to complete.

In an article, Lapierre said that, to date, “no court has sentenced those responsible for that catastrophe. The president of the U.S. company Union Carbide, responsible for the tragedy, refuses to testify in an Indian court. He has disappeared from his Florida retreat and is in hiding. Interpol still has a search and arrest warrant against him. Union Carbide has never agreed to reveal the exact composition of the gas that escaped from its factory that night. This refusal continues to impede doctors today from finding an appropriate antidote against the gas´ effects.”

Lapierre remembered in particular “a wonderful Scottish religious, Sister Felicity, who saved hundreds of children during the fatal night.”

“We have become friends of the residents of the neighborhood slums constructed along the factory walls,” he said. “Here is where the greatest number of victims are found because that night the wind was blowing from north to south, in other words, toward their neighborhoods.”

He continued: “The survivors have not told the full story. Some accounts have been very disturbing, such as that of Padmini, a young Indian whom they thought was dead and was about to be placed on a funeral pyre. At the last minute, someone realized that she had a little cross around her neck. The bodies of Christians are not burnt in India; she was saved.”

With the rights of authorship of this book, Lapierre hopes to help 3,000 families of a slum area near the factory. They are condemned to drink water from a well contaminated by the toxic waste deposited 16 years ago by the pesticide industry, he explained. The rate of mercury and chrome in this water is 600 times higher than the tolerable maximum.

“I took two sips of this water and for four days I have had a burning sensation in my mouth,” he said. With the funds collected, Lapierre plans to construct outpatient centers and water facilities for the neighborhood.

Lapierre hopes the book will help to sensitize people about technological process. He quotes Albert Einstein: “Man and his safety must be the first concern of every technological venture.”

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