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43 dead in ‘horrific’ factory fire in New Delhi

A fire swept through a factory in New Delhi early Sunday, killing 43 people and injuring several others, police said.

New Delhi, 8 December 2019 (dpa/MIA) – A fire swept through a factory in New Delhi early Sunday, killing 43 people and injuring several others, police said.

Most of the dead were workers who were sleeping on the upper floors of the 4-storey building, located in the Anaj Mandi area of the Indian capital, police spokesman MS Randhawa said.

“More than 60 people were taken out, 43 of them have died mostly due to inhaling toxic smoke,” Randhawa said, adding that about 15 to 20 people were being treated at nearby hospitals.

“There was a lot of highly inflammable plastic material and paper in the workshops and these created a lot of toxic fumes. Two of our policemen and two firemen were also affected and are in hospital,” Randhawa said.

“The fire in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

The so-called factory – which was actually a cluster of workshops across several floors for the production of schoolbags and other plastic goods – did not have the required fire safety clearances, an official from the Fire Department said.

“There are several such workshops in the buildings in this residential area,” the Fire Department official said.

The people killed and injured in the fire were for the most part migrant workers from the impoverished states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. At least two of them were below the age of 15, police said.

“Three of my nephews were there sleeping in the building, we went looking for them in the hospitals, but they are not letting us enter,” a distraught elderly man told broadcaster NDTV.

Police have registered a case of culpable homicide against the owner of the building, who could not be located by police, Randhawa said.

Rescue operations were cumbersome because of difficulties entering the narrow lane, Chief Fire Officer Atul Garg said.

Garg said local residents contacted the Fire Department and helped by quickly evacuating adjoining buildings.

Police and the fire brigade were alerted about the fire at 5.22 am (2352 GMT) and reached the scene within minutes. It took more than 30 workers to douse the fire, Randhawa said.

“Prima facie it appears the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit,” Randhawa added.

The exact cause of the fire would be known after an investigation which would be completed within seven days, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said.

Kejriwal announced compensation of 1 million rupees (about 14,000 dollars) to the victims’ next of kin and 100,000 rupees each to the injured.

Accidents and fires are fairly common in India, where safety standards are often disregarded. Poor fire protection devices, missing emergency exits and outdated electrical systems are not uncommon.

At least 13 people were killed and 64 more were injured after explosions ripped through a chemical factory in western India in September.

In February, at least 17 people died in a fire that broke out at a hotel in Delhi.

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