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Fire at Indian hospital kills 89, injures dozens [Updated]

December 9, 2011 |  3:08 am

This post has been updated. See the note at the bottom for details.

REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI--At least 89 patients died and dozens were injured when a fire raced through a hospital in India’s eastern city of Kolkata early Friday amid unconfirmed reports that it started in an underground parking lot used to store oxygen cylinders and flammable material.

Most of those who died in the multistory AMRI hospital in the southern part of the city died of suffocation, fire officials said. Hundreds of angry relatives, distraught at the lack of information and the idea that such a tragedy had occurred in a place dedicated to healing, reportedly went on a rampage, smashing glass in the reception area and looting hospital registers.

This was the second fire at that hospital in three years and one of the worst in Indian history. Mamata Banerjee, the top elected official in West Bengal state, where Kolkata is located, called it an “unforgivable crime,” adding that the private hospital’s license had been revoked. She promised a full investigation and harsh punishment for those found guilty of wrongdoing. Five fire engines brought the fire under control a few hours after the 3 a.m. blaze broke out, their arrival delayed by the narrow, congested streets surrounding the site.

Neighbors and passersby helped rescue stranded occupants of the 160-bed facility. Some told local television reporters that hospital staff had abandoned patients and fled for safety. Among the people confirmed dead in the conflagration, three were hospital workers, said Satyabrata Upadhyay, a senior vice president of the AMRI hospital company.

Indian television showed dead bodies being removed from the building wrapped in sheets, with some of the living and dead lowered from windows by rope.

[Updated at 7 a.m., Dec. 9: The death toll has been updated from at least 70 to 89.]

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-- Mark Magnier

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