Kolkata hospital fire kills 90

Bangladeshi national also burnt to death
At least 90 people, including a Bangladeshi, were killed as a devastating fire swept through at a super-speciality hospital on Friday in Kolkata.
The fire broke out around 3:00am at AMRI Hospital in congested Dhakuria locality of South Kolkata when the vast majority of patients inside the privately-run, seven-storey building were asleep.
Out of some 160 people admitted in the hospital, 90 were rescued. Angry over “mismanagement”, relatives vandalised the reception at the main hospital building.
The Bangladeshi who perished in the incident was 75-year-old Gauranga Mondol from Munshiganj district. He was admitted in the centrally-air-conditioned hospital on Wednesday for treatment of neurological disorder and lung ailment.
The fire began in the hospital’s basement, which stores combustible material, and most of the victims were patients who suffocated by the thick poisonous smoke that passed through the air-condition ducts and quickly filled the wards and corridors of the floors above.
Noticing the fire early in the morning, locals rushed to the gates but were driven away by the security guards. The fire, meantime, spread swiftly, Paschimbanga Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said.
As smoke billowed out, firefighters, using ladders fitted with platforms, smashed windowpanes in the facade of the building to rescue patients trapped inside the Intensive Care Unit, Intensive Coronary Care Unit, Intensive Therapy Unit and Critical Care Unit of the Hospital.
Patients with rope tied around them were brought down by the firemen as their relatives watched in horror the tragedy unfolding before their eyes.
By 9:00am, the blaze had largely been brought under control but the smoke continued to billow from shattered windows for hours, as firemen struggled to reach those still trapped inside.
A number of immobile patients were evacuated down the side of the building using ropes and pulleys.
The premises of the hospital presented a ghastly sight with bodies strewn around and anxious relatives milling hoping their near and dears one are not among the dead.
Majority of the dead patients were from critical care and orthopaedic wards and were not in a position to move, said D Biswas, additional director general of Fire Services.
Rescued patients and those who managed to escape said they had woken up to rooms full of choking, thick smoke.
“I was terrified, I kept shouting for help,” said Jyoti Choudhury who was admitted to the hospital a week before.
“Finally, a nurse dragged me out of the ward and got me down to the ground floor,” said Choudhury, who was then taken to the adjacent hospital wing.
Ananya Das, 34, bearing stitches on her stomach from minor surgery carried out the day before, said she was in post-operative recovery when the fire broke out.
“I managed to walk towards an exit and then climb out of a window. I saw a lot of bodies,” she said.
Paschimbanga Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the hospital, said six board members of the hospital had been arrested and charged with culpable homicide and negligence. Leading industrialist SK Modi is among the detained.
“The law will take its own course. Those responsible for so many deaths will be dealt with seriously,” she said.
The state’s public health engineering minister, Subrata Mukherjee, said senior members of the hospital staff appeared to have fled as soon as the fire broke out, leaving their patients.
“It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients,” Subrata told reporters.
Several hundred angry and distraught relatives alleged “this was all due to the negligence of the hospital authorities”.
“The hospital authorities did not inform about the fire. It was the local police station which informed the fire department at 4:10am,” Javed Ahmed Khan, minister of fire and emergency services, told The Hindu.
A case has been filed under non-bailable sections against the hospital authorities, he said.
However, the hospital’s vice president, S Upadhyay, claimed the hospital had taken all fire safety measures and conducted fire safety drill every week.
Fire engines had trouble reaching the hospital through narrow roads leading to the hospital.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled the deaths and announced assistance of Rs 2 lakh to each of the kin of the dead.
Paschimbanga government announced assistance of Rs 5 lakh to next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
The hospital announced compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the family of each victim.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her profound shock at the loss of lives in the fire.
In a message to her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, she prayed for peace of the departed souls and also conveyed her sympathy to the bereaved family members.

-With The Daily Star input

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