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December 9, 2019

43 killed in Delhi factory fire

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December 9, 2019

NEW DELHI: At least 43 people were killed Sunday in a devastating fire that ripped through a bag factory in the cramped, congested old quarter here, trapping scores of workers sleeping inside.

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 5:00am (23:30 GMT) pleading to be freed from the inferno in the dark, poorly lit premises in the commercial hub of Saddar Bazaar.

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 told AFP.

"After the fire, people didn´t have any way to get out and I believe many were asleep and because of the smoke, they got suffocated." Outside a nearby hospital morgue, anxious relatives and friends gathered to identify the bodies.

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 told AFP. "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."

Witnesses said the fire took hold so quickly in the early hours of Sunday that there was little time for 50 labourers sleeping on the third floor of the factory building to escape. It took three hours to extinguish the blaze, and by Sunday afternoon, the extent of the damage was clear.

Police said the building had violated multiple regulations and the owner had been arrested. Many of those who gathered near the site of the fire at Saddar Bazaar blamed the city council for poor oversight and regulation, as it is thought the factory was operating illegally.

According to the head of the city’s fire services, Atul Garg, the building did not have fire clearance. Sunil Choudhary, a deputy chief fire officer, said the factory had swiftly become a “toxic chamber”, owing to smoke filling the 600 sq ft (56 sq metre) space.

Fire officials described difficulty accessing the building, which was down a narrow alley. “We had to break the main gate to gain access to the building and bring out the people,” one said.

“There was only one staircase to climb up the building. There was smoke and toxic gas all around and fire personnel faced much difficulty in fighting out the blaze.” Visiting the site of the fire, Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said: “I have ordered a magisterial inquiry into it.

Compensation of Rs10 lakh [£10,870] each will be given to families of those dead and Rs1 lakh to each of those injured. The expense of medical treatment of those injured will be borne by the government.”

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, described the blaze as “extremely horrific” and added: “My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy.” Police and fire officials said at least 58 others were rescued.

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