Kolkata yet to learn from past fire tragedies

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 27, 2013 13:20 hrs

Kolkata, Feb 27 (IANS) In a grim reminder of the AMRI Hospital and Stephen Court fire tragedies, Kolkata Wednesday woke up to a similar incident that left behind a trail of death and devastation at a marketplace.

Much like the AMRI disaster of December 2011, most victims were trapped inside the building and suffocated to death.

The steady stream of soot-smeared bodies being taken out of the market complex in Sealdah bore an eerie resemblance to the hospital fire incident where too a pre-dawn blaze choked to death critically-ill patients -- many of them in their sleep. Ninety-four people had died in the incident.

According to witnesses, Wednesday's blaze began around 3 a.m. in the mezzanine floor and leapt up to the first and second floors where most of the victims were sleeping.

In another similarity to the AMRI tragedy, highly combustible and inflammable material were stored in the building, facilitating the quick spreading of the fire.

"After the AMRI incident, the government requested all buildings to follow safety norms. No one follows the norms," Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.

She advised people not to sleep in warehouses and dingy shops and said the government was ready to provide shelters to them, if needed.

"Most of the victims used to sleep inside the shops and godowns (warehouses). With the fire spreading all around and exits locked, they were trapped and suffocated to death," said a witness.

Doctors at N.R.S. Medical College and Hospital where the victims were taken to said most died due to suffocation.

"Some of them were charred to death, but a majority of them died due to suffocation," said a doctor.

With forensic experts and fire officials still inspecting the area and prohibiting people to access it, shopkeepers and warehouse owners are yet to ascertain their losses.

"I stocked medicines worth over Rs.25 lakh. All that is gone now. I'm completely ruined. My family has no other way but to beg now," said a medicine shop owner.

Similar is the story of around 50 families who lost their livelihood in the blaze which took more than nine hours to be put out.

Some said fire tenders reached the spot half an hour late after the fire was out of control.

The beeline of political leaders at the site also compounded the misery of the people as they were prevented by police to access their destroyed shops.

With the market located in a congested area and roads leading to it being dingy and narrow, the fire fighters had problem accessing the building as precious time flew by.

"Some fire tenders were old and leaking. People in the area were also prevented from going inside the building. Had we been allowed inside we could have saved many people," said a witness.

Fire Services Minister Javed Khan admitted that the lack of fire exits coupled with locked doors in the ill-fated building hampered rescue work.

It also proved that the city was yet to learn from past tragedies.

In the fire at the iconic Stephen Court building in Park Street in March 2010, 43 people had died with most of them getting trapped due to locked doors and lack of fire exits.

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