The death toll in Kolkata' s famous Stephen Court building has risen to 24 Wednesday with as many as over 40 injured and around 30 still missing, said police.
At least 24 people died and 40 others were injured when a fire engulfed a landmark building in the heart of the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. [Xinhua]
Hundreds of anxious relatives were seen checking various hospitals in and around the city. In order to identify the bodies of the victims, many of them were still waiting in front of the SSKM hospital morgue.
Police found 18 totally charred bodies in the badly burnt building after fire fighters spent nearly nine hours to put out the fire Tuesday mid-night. Six others had jumped to death.
Missing persons reports have already been filed for 29 people and those missing are believed to be the employees of a local call center.
"I simply cannot understand why the municipal authorities do not take stringent action against such buildings as Stephen Court, which do not have the barest minimum of fire protection system like wet risers and hoses at every landing," Ramakant Ganguly, a local shopkeeper and an eye witness of Tuesday's blaze, told Xinhua.
Another eye witness Aurojit Chakravarti also blasted the lack of arrangements by the state government to deal with such exigencies.
"The municipal corporations are interested only in increasing their revenue but they lack vision for making city safe enough for living," Chakravarti said.
Locals here are livid with the security system in many such high profile buildings, particularly the old structures.
"Old buildings must be regularly examined for safety. And this does not require much resources. The government can go in for security checks once in a couple of years and that will make the buildings safe for use. This will bring down the instances of buildings crumbling or fire engulfing them due to short circuit etc," Suman Bandopadhyay, a frequent visitor to the Stephen Court building, said.
Search operations were still on but it was unlikely that there were any bodies trapped in the building, fire brigade sources said.
Although prima facie it looked like a case of fire due to short circuit in the lift between the 5th and 6th floors, interestingly, a team of forensic experts is yet to visit the spot to ascertain the exact cause of the fire.
"The burnt portion of the Stephen Court building of the posh Park Street will be pulled down," Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya told reporters here.
At least 24 people died and 40 others were injured when a fire engulfed a landmark building in the heart of the eastern Indian city of Kolkata. (Xinhua/AFP)
"It is an old building and as such its fire-resistance capacity is not known. I can't say if the building can be saved considering the degree of devastation," Fire Services minister Pratim Chatterjee said here.
People complained that the fire fighters arrived 45 minutes after the fire broke out, even though the fire department is also located at the city center as the doomed house is.
But fire fighters said the casualties could be greatly lower if the major exit gate of the building was not locked.
The blaze at Stephen Court building began around the lunch time Tuesday. As many as four persons jumped to escape one of the worst blaze in the city and scores were trapped.
As many as 300 firemen and 40 fire tenders and snorkels were sent to fight the blaze, which originated from one of the lifts between the 5th and 6th floors of the building.
Stephen Court, located in the heart of the eastern Indian metroplis, houses the iconic 100-year-old Flury's confectionery house, a popular restaurant called Peter Cat, a large music store called Music World and several other offices.
The blaze came exactly one month after another fire killed nine and injured more than 60 at an office building in the southern Indian city of Bangalore on Feb. 23.