Kolkata hospital staff flees as fire kills 89

Kolkata hospital staff flees as fire kills 89

Kolkata hospital staff flees as fire kills 89

Rescue workers evacuate people after a fire engulfed a hospital in Kolkata. AFP photo

At least 89 people were killed when a fire engulfed patients at a hospital Dec. 9 in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, and officials are accusing staff of abandoning those in their care, reports said.

“The death toll has now gone up to 89. It has been increasing throughout the day,” D. Chatterjee, the on-duty officer in the Kolkata police main control room, told Agence France-Presse.

The fire broke out at around 3 a.m. local time Dec. 9, when the vast majority of the 160 patients inside the privately-run, five-storey facility were asleep.

Fire officials said initial investigations suggested the blaze had started in the basement and most of the victims suffocated on thick, acrid smoke that quickly filled the wards on the floors above.

Indian police arrested six hospital officials. Top state officials in West Bengal had accused the staff at AMRI Hospital of abandoning their patients and fleeing as smoke and flames poured through the building in the pre-dawn hours Dec. 9.

Six directors from the hospital company were charged with culpable homicide and surrendered to police, officials told the Associated Press.

“It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients,” said Subrata Mukherjee, the West Bengal state minister for public health engineering. “Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out.”

The hospital expressed regret over the deaths, and denied any violations of safety measures. The hospital has announced each of the victims’ families would be compensated 500,000 rupees ($10,000).