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December 9, 2019

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43 killed in New Delhi factory blaze

AT least 43 people were killed in a devastating fire that ripped through a factory in the cramped, congested old quarter of the Indian capital New Delhi yesterday, trapping scores of workers who were sleeping inside.

The blaze was the worst in Delhi since 59 moviegoers died in a cinema in 1997, with the city’s poor planning and enforcement of building and safety regulations often responsible for such deadly incidents.

Tearful relatives spoke of receiving desperate calls from factory workers from around 5am pleading to be freed from the inferno in the dark, poorly lit premises in the commercial hub of Sadar Bazar.

The four-story building was home to a series of manufacturing units producing items including schools bags and packing materials which only worsened the spread of the fire, officials said. Locals said the factory also made purses.

“Most of the casualties happened because of suffocation,” witness Mohammed Khalil said. “After the fire, people didn’t have any way to get out and I believe many were asleep and because of the smoke, they got suffocated.”

Outside a hospital morgue, anxious relatives and friends gathered to identify the bodies. Naushad Ahmad was desperately looking for his friend who remained missing, unable to reach him on his mobile phone. “I have been to the factory and this tragedy was waiting to happen,” he said. “There was only one exit and entrance to the building, with all the electricity meters installed at the main door ... People didn’t get a chance to escape.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the fire was “extremely horrific,” as state and national authorities said they would offer financial assistance to the victims’ families and to survivors.

Police and fire officials said at least 58 others were rescued, with television networks airing footage of firemen carrying people out of the narrow lanes to nearby emergency vehicles.

“Most who’ve died were sleeping when the fire broke out and died due to asphyxiation,” Sadar Bazar’s assistant commissioner of police said.

Authorities said they did not yet know the cause of the blaze but Delhi’s fire services director told the Press Trust of India the site had been operating without the required fire safety clearances.


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