KOLKATA, India - Fleeing medical staff abandoned patients to an early morning fire that killed 89 people Friday as black smoke poured through the seven-story hospital in this city in eastern India, officials said. Six administrators were arrested.
Dwellers of a nearby slum who first noticed the smoke and fire rushed to the AMRI Hospital to raise the alarm, but security guards kept them back, saying it was only a small blaze, witnesses said.
It took firefighters in the city formerly known as Calcutta more than an hour to respond, said Pradeep Sarkar, a witness whose uncle was hospitalized but among those safely evacuated. Some of the slum dwellers helped with the rescue.
The neighborhood's narrow streets apparently made it difficult for fire trucks to get close to the building and to bring in big hydraulic ladders. Eventually, they smashed through a main gate to make way for the ladders.
Six hospital directors surrendered to police and were charged with culpable homicide, according to police who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, ordered the hospital's license withdrawn. The hospital denied that any safety measures were violated.
"It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients," said Subrata Mukherjee, West Bengal state minister for public health. "Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out."
Rescuers pulled 73 bodies from the building and another 16 died of their injuries later, said Danayati Sen, a top Kolkata police official. Most of the deaths were due to smoke inhalation.
Four of the dead were staff members, officials said. There were 160 patients in the 190-bed facility at the time, said Satyabrata Upadhyay, a senior vice president.
One survivor told Indian television she was at the bedside of her mother, who was on a ventilator, when smoke started filling the room. "I kept ringing the bell for the nurse, but no one came," she said, adding that rescuers managed to evacuate her mother more than two hours after the fire started.
Rescue workers on ladders smashed windows in the upper floors to get to trapped patients before they suffocated from the smoke as sobbing relatives waited on the street. Patients were removed on stretchers and in wheelchairs to a nearby hospital.
Patients and relatives complained that hospital staff did little to help and that smoke detectors failed to go off.