India Factory Fire Kills Dozens

Workers were sleeping where they make purses for $2 a day
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 8, 2019 9:25 AM CST
43 Die in New Delhi Factory Fire
People wait to identify and collect bodies of relatives Sunday in New Delhi.   (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

A fire believed to be caused by an electrical short circuit engulfed a building in New Delhi on Sunday where handbags and other items were made by workers earning as little as $2 per day. At least 43 people were killed, the AP reports. The blaze in the capital's Karol Bagh neighborhood, a warren of narrow alleyways with electrical wiring strung helter-skelter, was the second major fire there this year. In February, 17 people were killed in a blaze that started in a six-story building's illegal rooftop kitchen. Karol Bagh contains the city's largest wholesale market for household goods, known as Sadar Bazaar. The area's aging buildings are stacked with apartments, shops, storage facilities and manufacturing units. Building laws and safety norms are routinely flouted in New Delhi, making fires common. The building's owner was detained on suspicion of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

A day laborer said she was sleeping in a room with about 18 other women and children on the building's first floor when she woke to find a bag full of plastic parts on fire. Her brother-in-law carried her to safety, she said. Outside, a mortuary was guarded by dozens of police officers. Family members identified the dead from photos on the officers' phones. Many of the men were migrant workers who were paid as little as $2.10 per day making handbags, caps and other garments, sleeping at the factory between long shifts. Many of the victims were asleep when the blaze began, police said. "No one could get out. There was an iron door and it was locked and people were brought out only after we broke the door open," a police spokesman said, per CNN. "It had become a toxic chamber." (A fire in a poorly built New Delhi hotel killed 17 people.)

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