At least 34 people have died in a major fire that broke out in a building in a grains market in central New Delhi, a doctor in a government-run hospital said.
Kishore Singh said the victims were brought to the hospital by rescuers on Sunday. Another 15 people were being treated for burns or smoke inhalation. They were in a stable condition, Singh said.
The blaze broke out in the early hours in the city’s old quarter, whose narrow and congested lanes are lined with many small manufacturing and storage units.
“We ... have since rescued at least 50 people,” Sunil Choudhary, New Delhi’s deputy chief fire officer, told AFP.
They were “labourers and factory workers sleeping inside this four-or five-storied building,” he said, adding that the fire had been extinguished but rescue operations were ongoing.
Fire officials said it was very difficult to access the dark, poorly lit premises in the commercial hub of Sadar Bazar.
The building was filled with school bags and packing material, they said, but cautioned they were still unsure about the cause of the fire.
“All the rescued persons were rushed to the nearby local hospitals, which have already confirmed 30 deaths. Some of the others are also in a serious state,” Sadar Bazar’s assistant commissioner of police told AFP.
“Most who’ve died were sleeping when the fire broke out and died due to asphyxiation,” the official added.
Many factories and small manufacturing units in big Indian cities are located in old, cramped quarters of the cities, where the cost of land is relatively cheaper.
Such units often also serve as sleeping quarters for poor, mostly migrant labourers and workers, who manage to save money by sleeping overnight at their workplaces.
Lack of planning and lax enforcement of building and safety regulations often leads to such deadly accidents.
Fire services chief Atul Garg said the blaze was put out by 25 fire trucks and the rescue operation completed. He said that 56 people had been moved out of the area.
The fire broke out around 5.30am.
Narendra Modi issued a statement on Twitter expressing condolences for the victims.
“The fire in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific,” the prime minister tweeted. “My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy.”