, KOLKATA, Dec 10 – Indian police were on Saturday investigating the cause of a fire that killed 90 people in a hospital in Kolkata when poisonous fumes spread from the blaze in the building’s basement.
Patients were lowered down the outside of the hospital on ropes after the fire broke out in the early hours of Friday at the privately-run AMRI hospital, engulfing the multi-storey premises in thick smoke.
Firefighters and staff smashed glass windows to evacuate some of the 160 patients, with local media alleging that fire alarms and extinguishers had not been working.
“In all, 90 bodies have been extricated from the hospital. 88 of these bodies have been identified and handed over to the relatives,” Damayanti Sen, joint commissioner of police, told AFP on Saturday.
Sen, who is heading the team appointed to investigate the tragedy, added that all the deaths were due to the inhalation of toxic fumes which filled the wards in the middle of the night. Four staff were among the dead.
Initial investigations suggested the fire might have been started by a short circuit in the basement, which was used to store oxygen cylinders, plastic pipes, fibre coils, chemicals and medical equipment.
Fire engines had trouble reaching the hospital, which is surrounded by narrow roads, while hundreds of angry and distraught relatives gathered outside during the rescue operation.
Javed Khan, head of the fire service in West Bengal state — of which Kolkata is the capital — said the incident suggested gross negligence and serious violations of safety norms.
“There was a fire in 2008 in the same hospital and we are trying to probe how the authorities got their fire licence renewed,” Khan told AFP.
Six senior executives from the two companies that co-owned the hospital were due to appear in court later Saturday.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the site on Friday, said they could face charges of culpable homicide.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced his “shock and anguish” at the heavy loss of life.