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India fire toll hits 89; senior hospital officials allegedly 'ran away'

 

Update at 9:36 a.m. ET: The Kolkata hospital where a blaze killed scores of people has denied any violations of safety measures after the West Bengal chief minister ordered that its license be withdrawn. The death toll from the fire has now risen to 89.

Satyabrata Upadhyay, senior vice president of the AMRI hospital company, said the loss of life was "extremely unfortunate and painful." Upadhyay also said the compensation that would be given to families of those killed would be 200,000 rupees (about $4,000).

Update at 8:30 a.m. ET: The death toll from the fire at the hospital in Kolkata has grown to 88 as attention turns to the 6 workers who have been charged with culpable homicide.


 

"It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients," said Subrata Mukherjee, West Bengal state minister for public health engineering. "Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out."

The region's highest official described the fire as an "unforgiveable tragedy." According to India's NDTV, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee vowed "the harshest punishment possible" for those found responsible. Banerjee said the fire services authorities and the police had cautioned the AMRI Hospital authorities in September about its basement, where the fire started. "AMRI had given an undertaking, but did not keep it," she said.

As the fire raged, rescue workers on long ladders smashed windows in the upper floors of the AMRI Hospital to pull trapped patients out before they suffocated from smoke inhalation, while sobbing relatives waited on the street below. Rescue workers took patients on stretchers and in wheelchairs to a nearby hospital.

Update at 7:18 a.m. ET: 
Six hospital officials have been charged with culpable homicide over the fire that killed 73 people in a hospital in Kolkata, India, police tell The Associated Press.

Update at 4:40 a.m. ET: One patient, Moon Moon Chakraborty, who was in the Kolkata hospital where at least 73 people died in a fire, called her husband at home to tell him it had broken out. "She had died by the time I reached the hospital," her husband, S. Chakraborty said.

Government officials in India are accusing hospital staff of abandoning patients as flames ripped through a hospital building in Kolkata, a large city in the east of the nation. Natalie Morales reports.

Update at 4:27 a.m. ET: India's West Bengal government has canceled the AMRI Hospital's license, The Times of India reports. The fire began in the hospital's basement, where medical waste and chemicals were reportedly stored.

Published at 3:51 a.m. ET: Some medical staff at an Indian hospital abandoned their patients and fled for safety early Friday as fire and smoke poured through the building, leaving at least 73 people dead, many from smoke inhalation, India's NDTV station reported.

As rescuers scrambled to evacuate survivors, police filed a case against the hospital in the eastern city of Kolkata for violating safety procedures and top government officials vowed to hold the hospital accountable for the tragedy.

"It's a very serious offense, and we will take the strongest action," Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, said at the scene.

Bikas Das / AP

Rescue officials climb on ladders to enter into rooms after a fire broke out at a hospital in Kolkata, India, on Friday.

The hospital authority promised to compensate the families of those killed, the Times of India reported.

Firefighters on long ladders smashed windows in the upper floors of the AMRI Hospital to pull trapped patients out before they suffocated, while sobbing relatives waited on the street below. Rescue workers took patients on stretchers and in wheelchairs to a nearby hospital.

NDTV reported 70 of those killed were patients, while the other three were hospital staff. Many of them died from suffocation.

The blaze erupted in the building's basement, and heavy smoke quickly engulfed the hospital. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

S. Upadhay, a senior vice president of the AMRI hospital company, said there were 160 patients in the 190-bed hospital annex at the time of the blaze.

The Times of India said 85 patients were rescued, but reported that the hospital authority would not confirm the condition of the 75 other patients. The latest reported death toll was 73, leaving two people unaccounted for, according to the Times' report.

Security guards said don't worry
People living in a massive slum close to the hospital first noticed the fire and smoke, according to witnesses. Some of them rushed to the hospital and raised an alarm, but security guards kept them back, saying there was a small fire in the kitchen and there was nothing to worry about. As the smoke enveloped the building, the slum dwellers joined in the rescue effort.

It took firefighters more than an hour to arrive after the blaze started, said Pradeep Sarkar, a witness. His uncle was hospitalized hours earlier after suffering a heart attack at home, and he was moved to a nearby hospital after the fire broke out for treatment.

The narrow streets in the neighborhood apparently made it difficult for the unwieldy fire trucks to get close to the building and for fire fighters to bring in the big hydraulic ladders needed to evacuate those trapped inside. Eventually, they smashed the main gate to make way for the ladders.

Banerjee said that while the fire brigade was delayed, police arrived quickly to help with the rescue effort.

Dozens of fire engines eventually arrived at the hospital. By midmorning, the fire was under control and most of the patients had been evacuated to other hospitals in the area, said Javed Khan, the state fire services minister.

But state officials said the hospital staff did nothing to aid in the rescue operations.

"It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients," said Subrata Mukherjee, state minister for public health engineering. "Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out."

Sirhad Hakeem, a minister in the West Bengal government, said the hospital basement was being used as a storage area, although it was originally planned as a parking lot.

Update at 2:12 a.m. ET: Senior Indian official says 61 bodies have been recovered from a hospital in Kolkata, India, after a fire erupted in the basement of the building.

Update at 2:08 a.m. ET: Officials say at least 46 people have died in a fire at a hospital in Kolkata, India.

Update at 2 a.m. ET Friday: Officials say at least 35 people have been killed in a fire at a hospital in Kolkata, India, The Associated Press reports. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee says most of the dead had suffocated, and implied that hospital negligence caused the tragedy. "It's a very serious offense, and we will take the strongest action," she says at the scene.

The fire has now been brought under control and most patients have been evacuated, the AP says.

Published at 11 p.m. ET Thursday: KOLKATA, India - At least 20 people are feared dead in a fire that struck a hospital in this eastern Indian city, officials said Friday.

Officials said at least 40 patients appeared to be trapped on upper floors after the fire broke out early Friday in the basement, the BBC reported. Rescuers were trying to reach them.

"Patients have suffocated on the fumes. Many have lost their lives," West Bengal Urban Development Minister Farhad Hakim told reporters, according to the BBC.

Many patients have been evacuated and moved to other hospitals, the BBC reported.

A correspondent at the scene told BBC radio that fire trucks were having a difficult time reaching the scene because of narrow streets around the hospital.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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