Kolkata: In the worst
fire tragedy in any hospital in India, 78 patients and three
staffers were killed in Kolkata's well-known AMRI hospital when a
blaze started in the basement of the annexe building early Friday
and quickly spread, trapping hundreds of people.
The pre-dawn blaze broke out at 3.30 a.m., catching many in their
sleep. While most nurses, doctors and other staffers were able to
get away, many critically ill patients died in their hospital
The tragedy unfolded over many hours as patients were suffocated
to death, some too infirm to escape the toxic fumes. 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.
Till late in the evening, rescuers were trying to drill holes in
the wall and smash the glass-panes in a last ditch effort to look
for survivors and bodies, and extinguish any fires still
The task of counting the bodies continued, with West Bengal Chief
Minister Mamata Banerjee announcing in the evening that the toll
had mounted to 81.
Co-founded by the Emami & Shrachi Groups along with the West
Bengal government in 1996, the hospital that was once rated as
amongst India's best is located in the fairly upscale Dhakuria
High profile industrialists -- Emami Group Chairman R.S. Goenka
and Shrachi Group's R.S. Todi -- and four other directors of the
hospital were arrested, Banerjee announced. The hospital's license
It was a sorry saga of bureaucratic and government inefficiency,
leading to the second major fire in Kolkata in 20 months -- after
the March 23, 2010 blaze at the British-era Stephen Court in the
heart of the bustling Park Street claimed 43 lives.
The fire brigade allegedly reached the hospital two hours late and
was initially ill-equipped - coming without masks and with only
rickety manual lifts - to deal with the horrific disaster.
Besides, complained anguished relatives and rescuers, the fire
broke out in the basement packed with combustible material,
including oxygen cylinders and chemicals.
No wonder, the hospital, which prides itself on its super
specialty facilities and attracts many foreigners, quickly turned
into a death trap with the sealed windows and glass.
"The victims mostly got suffocated from the fumes," Municipal
Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim said.
"The father of one of my friends was admitted in one of the upper
floors. When he heard I am at the spot he called up his son and
told him to ask me to rescue him. I could not do anything. I saw
his burnt body."
Said a hospital official: "At the time of the fire, there were 160
patients, including around 40-50 in the ICU."
The hospital has two other blocks in the complex.
Through the morning, patients blackened by soot, some dead and
others barely alive, were brought out while relatives and locals
vented their ire at the state and hospital administration.
"The administration is hopeless, useless," shouted Pradeep Sarkar.
His father-in-law had been admitted there Thursday night with a
He said the sky lift came only around 7 a.m.
"They (firemen) came with manual ladders. Had the sky lift come
earlier, many people could have been saved," said Sarkar.
Banerjee rushed to the spot, but only stoked the rage of the
"Because Mamata is here, the ambulances cannot go towards the
annex building. Please ask her to shift to another road," shouted
a distraught relative.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed grief and announced
compensation of Rs.200,000 each to the families of those killed.
Senior hospital officials, who patients alleged came several hours
after the fire broke out, said they had all fire-fighting
equipment in place and did not know what had gone wrong.