A raging fire in a private hospital in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) India left 84 people dead on Friday.
The blaze started in the basement of the building at around 3:30 a.m., sending toxic smoke through the building as fire spread to the ground floor, trapping people inside. The first people to notice the fire were residents of a nearby slum, who saw smoke billowing from the hospital, according to The Associated Press. Some of the neighbors ran to the hospital to help but were stopped by security guards who said that the fire was isolated to a kitchen and was under control.
Firefighters arrived an hour later. They broke down the gate of the hospital to make room for trucks and ladders. Rescuers used ropes and pulleys to lower victims down from the upper floors.
The victims mostly got suffocated from the fumes. Many of them were in a serious condition in the ICU, West Bengal urban development minister Firhad Hakim told reporters in Kolkata.
The smoke was so strong that some of the firefighters passed out during the rescue, he added.
Some of the victims have yet to be identified and authorities have put pictures of their faces on public billboards.
The AMRI private hospital was rated one of the best institutions in the city, and while its owners claimed it was up to code, many suggest that safety regulations had been habitually ignored. Survivors noted that smoke detectors did not sound and the building's glass facade trapped deadly carbon monoxide gas inside without any ventilation.
Till late in the day the hospital looked like a morgue as bodies lay in rows, reported The Times of India. Wails of relatives filled the air as they helplessly went looking among the bodies trying to identify their loved ones. Some sat staring at the bodies, while some repeatedly tried to wake them up from their everlasting sleep.
After the fire was put out and the tragedy extinguished, sadness quickly turned to anger for some.
It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients, Subrata Mukherjee, West Bengal state minister for public health engineering, told The Associated Press. Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out.
Just three of the bodies pulled from the hospital belonged to staff members, a shocking ratio that shows, to an extent, that employees fled the scene. Some of the people who escaped told reporters that when they called for nurses to help, no one came.
Police arrested six hospital officials on charges of negligence, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempt to culpable homicide, including the clinic's two owners who surrendered to authorities and have had their hospital license revoked, according to The Hindustan Times.
[The] law will take its own course. Those responsible for so many deaths, will be dealt with seriously, chief minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters.