89 Die in India Hospital Blaze

Anjana Pasricha | New Delhi

December 09, 2011

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In India, the death toll from a fire that engulfed a hospital in the eastern city of Kolkata has reached 89. Six people have been arrested in connection with the fire.

The fire that ripped through the seven-story AMRI hospital in Kolkata broke out before dawn Friday, trapping scores of sleeping patients.

Officials say the fire started in the buildings basement, where flammable materials were stored, and spread swiftly to the upper floors through the air conditioning shafts. It took several hours to get the blaze under control.

Most of the victims were patients who died after suffocating from fumes that spread into their rooms. Firefighters smashed windows on the upper floors to pull people out.

There were chaotic scenes outside the hospital throughout the morning. Distraught relatives, who watched smoke swirling out of the hospital as they waited to get news of their loved ones, complained that fire engines arrived too late and that those trapped inside did not get help quickly.

State government officials said that the narrow streets around the hospital made it difficult for rescue services to arrive quickly.

Hospital authorities said that out of the 164 patients in the hospital when the tragedy occurred, around 90 were rescued and taken to other hospitals. The hospital, located in a middle class neighborhood, is part of a prominent chain of clinics in the city.

A senior official at the hospital, S. Upadhay, denied allegations that the fire was caused by negligence.

It was an accidentwe have got all the fire systems in place, we have got fire drills out there," said Upadhay.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled the license for the hospital and promised strong action against the guilty.

She called it a criminal offense, saying that many people had died. She said action will be taken because even negligence, knowingly or unknowingly, is a crime.

Six board members of the hospital have been arrested.

In the wake of the tragedy, domestic media have raised many questions about the lack of adequate safety standards in India.