More than 40 people have died in a factory fire in India‘s capital New Delhi, with the toll still expected to rise, officials said.
The blaze broke out around 5.30am local time (00:00 GMT) on Sunday 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 news agency.
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.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
A senior Delhi Police official said eight or nine people were carried out later, bringing the overall number rescued to at least 58.
Fire officials said it was very difficult to access the dark, poorly lit premises in the commercial hub of Sadar Bazar in the Old Delhi area.
Local news channels aired footage of firefighters carrying people out of the narrow lanes to nearby emergency vehicles.
The building was filled with school bags and packing material, fire officials said, but cautioned they were still unsure about the cause of the blaze.
“All the rescued persons were rushed to the nearby local hospitals, which have already confirmed 35 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,” they said.
The police officer – who said emergency personnel remained on the scene – also warned that the toll was likely to rise as “many others are in a critical condition”.
“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 posted on Twitter.
“Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy,” he added.
Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, described the incident as “very very tragic news.”
“Rescue operations going on. Firemen doing their best. Injured are being taken to hospitals,” Kejriwal wrote on Twitter.
Fires are common in India, where building laws and safety norms are often flouted by builders and residents.
Many factories and small manufacturing units in big Indian cities are often 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.
In 1997, a fire in a movie theatre in New Delhi had killed 59 people. In February this year, 17 people were killed by a fire in a six-story hotel, also in the Indian capital that started in an unauthorised rooftop kitchen.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES
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