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Indian Judge to Probe Nation’s Worst Fire Accident in 7 Years

Firefighters unleash water to douse flames from an opening in the wall of the Advance Medicare And Research Institute (AMRI) hospital in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. The fire killed at least 91 people. Photographer: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters unleash water to douse flames from an opening in the wall of the Advance Medicare And Research Institute (AMRI) hospital in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. The fire killed at least 91 people. Photographer: Strdel/AFP/Getty Images

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- India’s West Bengal state ordered a probe led by a judge into the nation’s worst fire accident in seven years that killed at least 91 people.

“Since people have faith in the judicial system and a tragedy of huge dimension has occurred, we have taken this decision,” Press Trust of India cited Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as saying. “We have nothing to hide.”

Television images of the blaze that engulfed the seven-story AMRI Hospitals on Dec. 9 showed firemen smashing window panes and rescuing trapped victims with ropes tied around them. As many as 93 people may have died, PTI reported, without citing anyone.

AMRI Hospitals, part-owned by Kolkata-based Emami Group, a maker of cosmetics and massage oils, deferred setting up its own inquiry panel to investigate the incident, S. Upadhyay, a senior vice president at AMRI Hospitals, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Medical staff abandoned their patients after the fire spread, Associated Press reported, citing relatives of the dead. Authorities arrested six people, including AMRI’s co-owner S.K. Todi, Banerjee said on Dec. 9, adding that the hospital will be shut down after the rescue operations are over. R.S. Goenka, co-chairman of Emami, has surrendered to the police, said Mahasweta Sen, a spokeswoman for the company.

The dead included two nurses who died while trying to move patients to safety, AMRI said in a statement yesterday. The hospital is also providing medical aid to rescuers from nearby slums, according to the statement.

In July 2004, 91 children lost their lives in a school fire in the southern Indian town of Kumbakonam. In June 1997, 59 people died in a cinema fire in New Delhi after being trapped in the balcony. More than 100 were injured in the ensuing stampede.

To contact the reporter on this story: V. Ramakrishnan in Mumbai at rvenkatarama@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Arijit Ghosh at aghosh@bloomberg.net

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