M A I N   N E W S

89 die in Kolkata hospital blaze
n Fire tears through 7-storey private hospital n Most of the dead suffocated in the intensive care ward n Firefighers take an hour to arrive, witnesses say n Police arrest 6 hospital directors for negligence
Subhrangshu Gupta/TNS

Grieving relatives of victims and AMRI Hospital, on Friday.
Grieving relatives of victims and AMRI Hospital, on Friday. AFP

Kolkata, December 9
A devastating fire tore through a seven-storey private hospital in south Kolkata before dawn on Friday, killing at least 89 persons, mostly patients who were asleep when the blaze started.

The pre-dawn fire broke out at 3.30 am, catching many in their sleep. While most nurses, doctors and other staffers were able to get away, many critically ill patients suffocated to death in their hospital beds.

The tragedy unfolded over many hours. Some were suffocated, some were too infirm to escape the toxic fumes. The lucky few were brought down the side of the four-storey glass facade building using ropes and ladders, even as thousands watched in horror.

The fire broke out in the basement and quickly spread through the building by air-conditioning shafts. At the time of the fire, there were 160 patients, including around 40-50 in the ICU. The hospital has two other blocks in the complex.

The fire brigade, many alleged, came over two hours late. Firemen blamed it on narrow roads leading to the hospital. Relatives of patients said it was initially ill-equipped — without masks and with only rickety manual lifts — to deal with the horrific disaster.

Rescue workers bring down a patient from AMRI Hospital on Friday; grieving relatives of a victim.
Rescue workers bring down a patient from AMRI Hospital on Friday; grieving relatives of a victim. — PTI

“Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation due to toxic fumes,” Fire Services and Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan told reporters. Among the dead are three hospital employees and a Bangladesh national. Over 50 injured, some of them in a critical condition, have been admitted to different hospitals in the city.

As smoke billowed out, firemen using ladders with platforms smashed windowpanes to rescue patients trapped inside the ICU, ICCU, Intensive Therapy Unit and other critical care units.

The firemen evacuated patients with pulleys from the upper floors as they were not in a condition to be taken down by ladders put up by the fire brigade.

The minister alleged that there were no proper fire-fighting arrangements at the hospital. The hospital basement was also built illegally and was being used as a godown. The fire brigade has lodged an FIR against the hospital authorities in this connection.

Utter chaos prevailed outside the hospital with anxious relatives of patients gathering outside it to enquire about the welfare of their near and dear ones. They alleged that the hospital authorities had no clue about the condition of their patients. Immediately after the incident, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the site, cancelled the licence of the hospital. She also ordered a high-level inquiry and said the persons responsible for the incident would not be spared.

By evening, the police had arrested six persons, including SK Todi, the owner of the hospital.

“Six persons, including SK Todi, have been arrested,” confirmed Banerjee. The six have been charged with negligence, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to culpable homicide, a senior police official said. The hospital had been warned in September about the basement and it gave an undertaking to comply with it, but did not do so, Banerjee said. The CM said that the hospital has been closed and would be sealed by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation after completion of rescue operations. The Prime Minister has announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the victims’ kin while the state government announced an ex-gratia of Rs 3 lakh each and offered employment, if needed. AMRI Hospital announced Rs 5 lakh as compensation for the next of kin of those who died, while those injured would be treated free of cost at the hospital.

President Pratibha Patil, PM Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan, among others, have condoled the tragic deaths.

The hospital, initially named as Niramaya and running under the state health department, was handed over to Todi by former Chief Minister Jyoti Basu in 1984 at a through-away price, despite objection raised by the Finance Department. The AMRI group runs three other hospitals in the city and also some other businesses, including real estate.

Co-founded by the Emami & Shrachi Groups along with the West Bengal government in 1996, the hospital was once rated as amongst India's best.

(With inputs from agencies) 

How it happened

n According to eyewitnesses, the fire broke out around 3 am on Friday, when most of the patients in the 190-bed hospital were fast asleep and could not escape.

n The fire started in the basement and quickly spread through the building by air-conditioning shafts.

n In the basement, a huge stock of highly-inflammable items like, kerosene, LPG, plastic sheets, synthetic gloves and other surgery equipment turned the fire into a devastating blaze.

The fatal delay

n Angry local residents accused the hospital authorities of reacting too slowly. The hospital staff did not inform the fire brigade in time, causing a delay in the arrival of the fire brigade by at least two hours, they alleged.

n When the locals rushed to the hospital gate to inform about the fire, they were driven away by the security guards.

n The doctors, nurses and the hospital staff escaped immediately after fire began sweeping the floors one after the other.

n “We could see helpless patients inside trying to catch our attention, asking for help by pressing their hands and faces against windows,” said Sanjeet Kayal, who lives adjacent to AMRI hospital.





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