A basement fire sent flames and smoke coursing through a seven-story Indian hospital today, killing 73 people, and officials accused hospital staff of abandoning many patients to die of suffocation. As rescuers scrambled to evacuate survivors, police filed a case against the hospital in the eastern city of Kolkata for violating safety procedures, and top government officials vowed to hold the facility accountable and work toward revoking its license. The blaze erupted about 3:30am in the building's basement, and heavy smoke quickly engulfed the hospital. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.
"It was horrifying that the hospital authorities did not make any effort to rescue trapped patients," says a state minister. "Senior hospital authorities ran away after the fire broke out." Three hospital workers died; the remainder of the dead were presumably patients and relatives who were aiding in their care. Rescue officials said many of the dead suffered from smoke inhalation. The loss of life was "extremely unfortunate and painful," but the facility followed strict fire safety measures, says a senior vice president of the AMRI hospital company. Safety regulations are routinely ignored at hospitals throughout India. (Read more India stories.)