Kolkata Hospital Staff Abandon Patients To FireKolkata, Dec 9: Medical staff at AMRI hospital abandoned their patients and fled for safety early on Friday as fire and smoke poured through the building, leaving people dead, many from smoke inhalation, government officials
Kolkata, Dec 9: Medical staff at AMRI hospital abandoned their patients and fled for safety early on Friday as fire and smoke poured through the building, leaving people dead, many from smoke inhalation, government officials said.
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.
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.
The fire killed 73 people, most of them patients, police said. Many of them died from suffocation.
The blaze erupted in the AMRI hospital 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 fire and the smoke was first noticed by people living in a massive slum close to the hospital, 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.
Mamata 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 AMRI 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 AMRI 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.