Staff charged after abandoning patients in fire
Kolkata - Medical staff fled as flames and smoke filled an Indian hospital on Friday, abandoning their patients to a fire that killed 89 people, officials said.
Police arrested six hospital officials on charges of culpable homicide; the hospital denied any violations of safety measures.
"It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients," said Subrata Mukherjee, West Bengal state minister for public health engineering.
"Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out."
As the fire raged, rescue workers on long ladders smashed windows in the upper floors of the AMRI Hospital to pull trapped patients out before they suffocated from smoke inhalation, while sobbing relatives waited on the street below.
Rescue workers took patients on stretchers and in wheelchairs to a nearby hospital.
Moon Moon Chakraborty, who was in the hospital with a broken ankle, called her husband S Chakraborty at home to tell him a fire had broken out.
"She had died by the time I reached the hospital," her husband said.
One survivor told Indian television she was sitting by the bedside of her mother, who was on a ventilator, when smoke came into the room.
No one came
"My mother was continuously telling me that she was feeling suffocated and uneasy," she said. "I kept ringing the bell for the nurse, but no one came."
Rescue workers managed to evacuate her mother more than two hours after the fire started, she said.
Emergency workers pulled 73 bodies from the building, and another 16 succumbed to their injuries later, said Danayati Sen, a top Kolkata police official.
Hospital officials said three of the bodies pulled from the building were those of staff members. The remainder were presumably patients and relatives who were aiding in their care.
At the time of the blaze, there were 160 patients in the 190-bed hospital annex, said Satyabrata Upadhyay, a senior vice president of the AMRI hospital company.
The loss of life was "extremely unfortunate and painful", but the facility followed strict fire safety measures, he said. He promised to give 200 000 rupees (about $4 000) to the relatives of the dead.
"We deeply sympathise and share the pain and agony of the family members of the patients admitted here," he said.
The expensive AMRI private hospital was recently rated one of the best hospitals in the city by an Indian magazine. However, safety regulations are routinely ignored at hospitals throughout India.