Over 40 people killed in India’s factory inferno

Monday, December 9th, 2019 00:00 |
India’s factory inferno. Photo/Courtesy

  New Delhi, Sunday

At least 43 people were killed Sunday in a devastating fire that ripped through a bag factory in the cramped, congested old quarter of the Indian capital New Delhi, trapping scores of workers who were sleeping inside.

At least 100 people were sleeping inside the factory, which mainly makes school bags, when the fire started. More than 60 have been rescued.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the fire “horrific” and sent his condolences as state and national authorities said they would offer financial assistance to the victims’ families and to survivors.

The blaze was the worst in Delhi since 59 movie-goers died in a cinema in 1997, with the city’s poor planning and enforcement of building and safety regulations often responsible for such deadly incidents.

Tearful relatives spoke of receiving desperate calls from factory workers from around 5am (23:30 GMT) pleading to be freed from the inferno in the dark, poorly lit premises in the commercial hub of Sadar Bazar.

Spread fire

The four-storey building was home to a series of manufacturing units producing items including schools bags and packing materials which only worsened the spread of the fire, officials said. Locals said the factory also made purses. 

“Most of the casualties happened because of suffocation,” witness Mohammed Khalil said.

The area where the factory is located - Azad Market - is a web of narrow alleyways, which made it difficult to reach the blaze.

Rescuers had to carry out victims on their shoulders one-by-one with firefighters cutting away window grills to access the building.

A local fire chief told BBC Hindi’s Dilnawaz Pasha the building did not have a proper fire licence and was operating illegally as a factory.

It is not clear what caused the blaze but an investigation has been ordered. An initial probe and eyewitnesses suggested a short circuit may have been to blame.

Outside a nearby hospital morgue, anxious relatives and friends gathered to identify the bodies.

Missing persons

Naushad Ahmad, was desperately looking for his friend who remained missing, unable to reach him on his mobile phone.

“I have been to the factory and this tragedy was waiting to happen,” he said.

“There was only one exit and entrance to the building, with all the electricity meters installed at the main door... People didn’t get a chance to escape.”

Families of the victims told AFP they were mostly migrant workers who had come from Bihar, one of India’s most impoverished states.

Police and fire officials said at least 58 others were rescued, with local television networks airing footage of firemen carrying people out of the narrow lanes to nearby emergency vehicles.     -Agencies

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