December 9, 2011

INDIA: Massive Fire Burns Engulfs Kolkata AMRI Hospital Claiming The Lives Of 89 Patients! :o

The Times of India
written by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey
Friday December 9, 2011

KOLKATA: The death toll in the AMRI hospital fire in Kolkata has increased to 89.

Meanwhile, noted industrialists SK Todi, RS Goenka and four other directors of the hospital have been arrested and booked for several non-bailable offences, said the police.

"Six directors of the AMRI hospital have been arrested today in connection with the fire tragedy. Those arrested include SK Todi, RS Goenka and Ravi Todi. They have been booked for several non-bailable offences, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder," joint commissioner of police (Crime) Damayanti Sen said.

SK Todi is the chairman of the Shrachi Group while RS Goenka is the chairman of the Emami Group. They had co-founded the hospital, located in the fairly upscale Dhakuria neighbourhood, in 1996 along with the West Bengal government.

Of the six people arrested, only SK Todi had surrendered at the police headquarters here, Sen said.

Among the dead are 70 patients and three staff of the multistoreyed private hospital which turned into a towering inferno in the early morning hours. The bodies of the other victims are being identified.

The fire spread fast from the basement of the hospital, engulfing one ward after the other and trapping hundreds of people. While many patients died of burns, several others died due to suffocation caused by carbon monoxide accumulation all over the building. About 50 bodies have been sent to the SSKM Hospital where post mortem has already been conducted on 42 bodies.

The tragedy unfolded over many hours as patients were suffocated to death, some trapped in their beds, others dying in their sleep, too infirm to escape the smoke. The lucky few were brought down the side of the four-storey glass facade building, only six years old, using ropes and ladders as thousands looked on in horror.

The worst affected were the ICU patients who did not die of burns but due to asphyxiation. Experts have said that since the hospital building is surrounded by a glass facade, the accumulated gas could not escape causing so many deaths. Had there been an escape route for the gas, many deaths could have been prevented.

Through the morning, a steady stream of patients, blackened by soot, were brought out while enraged relatives and locals vented their ire at the state and hospital administration.

"What's the use of coming now? He is already dead. All are dead. The administration is hopeless, useless," shouted Pradeep Sarkar. His father-in-law had been admitted there Thursday night with a heart ailment.

He said the sky lift came only around 7 am.

"They (firemen) came with manual ladders. Had the sky lift come earlier, many people could have been saved. There are around 160 patients inside. All are is my father-in-law," said an anguished Sarkar.

Till late in the day the hospital looked like a morgue as bodies lay in rows, waiting to be sent to the SSKM Hospital for post mortem. 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.

Fire department officials were seen rescuing some bodies from the upper storeys. These bodies were tied up in ropes and sent down in pulleys.

Many relatives of patients who were still reported to be alive and sent to other hospitals of the city, complained that they were getting confusing information about where these patients were sent.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee rushed to the spot, but only stoked the rage of the people, leading to a near-stampede and police resorting to batons.

"Because Mamata is here, the ambulances cannot go towards the annexe building. Please ask her to shift to another road," shouted a distraught relative of a victim.

Banerjee tried to cool things down and shouted at police but it was of little help.

She went near the relatives and said 40 bodies have been kept at the SSKM Hospital. "Police will take you there. They will escort you there by forming a barricade around you."

The chief minister said photos of the unidentified victims would be displayed outside the SSKM morgue. "After identification, we will send the bodies in hearses to their homes."

The hospital has announced a compensation of Rs five lakh to families of the deceased. In addition to this the centre and the state governments have also announced separate compensation packages.

This is the second major fire in Kolkata in 20 months after the March 23, 2010 blaze at the landmark British-era Stephen Court in the heart of the bustling Park Street claimed 43 lives.

The hospital has two other blocks in the complex.

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