Huge fire at New Delhi handbag factory kills 43 workers

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A relative of a victim of a fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping, cries outside a hospital mortuary in New Delhi. (Reuters)
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Police stand guard as onlookers gather near the site of a fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping, in New Delhi. (Reuters)
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Ambulences and a firefighting vehicle at the scene of a deadly New Delhi fire that swept through a factory where laborers were sleeping. (ANI via Reuters)
Updated 08 December 2019

Huge fire at New Delhi handbag factory kills 43 workers

  • No details immediately available on the cause of the fire
  • Delhi state government to conduct a probe and action taken against those responsible for the fire

NEW DELHI: A fire believed to be caused by an electrical short circuit engulfed a building in India’s capital on Sunday where handbags and other items were made by workers earning as little as 2 dollars per day, killing at least 43 people.
The blaze in New Delhi’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.
Assistant New Delhi police commissioner Anil Kumar Mittal said that “the fire appears to have been caused by an electric short circuit,” adding that authorities were investigating whether the factory was operating legally. Building laws and safety norms are routinely flouted in New Delhi, making fires common.
The building’s owner, Rihan, who goes by one name, was detained on suspicion of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Mittal said.
Firefighters had to fight the blaze from 100 meters (yards) away because it broke out in one of the area’s many alleyways, tangled in electrical wire and too narrow for vehicles to access, authorities said.
A resident of the area, Mohammed Naushad, said he was woken by people wailing at around 4:30 a.m. He went outside to find smoke and flames shooting out of a building near Sadar Bazaar. Inside, he found the fourth floor engulfed in flames. One floor below, he saw “20 to 25 people lying on the floor.”
“I don’t know if they were dead or unconscious, but they were not moving,” Naushad said.
He said he carried at least 10 people out of the flames on his shoulders and into the arms of emergency responders.
Maisuma Bibi, a day laborer making plastic handbags, survived the blaze. She 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 that was guarded by dozens of police officers, some of the workers’ relatives said they had received phone calls from the men trapped inside, who begged them to call the fire brigade. Family members identified the dead from photos on police officers’ phones.
Many of the men were migrant workers from the impoverished border state of Bihar in eastern India, relatives said. They earned as little as 150 rupees ($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, according to Yogesh, a police spokesman who uses one name.
Dr. Kishore Singh said rescuers brought victims to his government-run hospital and two others in the city. Another 16 people were being treated for burns or smoke inhalation and were in stable condition, Singh said.
Police barred relatives from entering Lok Nayak hospital, where some of the victims were taken. Relatives of the workers cried, consoled one another and jostled for information.
“I was told by someone my nephew is inside, but I haven’t seen him,” said Mohammad Moti, who was searching for his 22-year-old nephew, Mohammad Chedi.
Fire Services chief Atul Garg said it took 25 fire trucks to put out the blaze. About 60 people, including some of the dead, were taken out of the building, said Mittal, the assistant police commissioner.
New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, appeared at the scene of the fire, promising victims’ families compensation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the fire as “extremely horrific.”
“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery,” Modi tweeted.


Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

Updated 20 min 48 sec ago

Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.
He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.
One of his traveling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.
Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.
It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms “given the high volume of international travel.”
Moreover, tourists leaving Bangkok for China said on Thursday they were worried about the spread of the Wuhan virus, ahead of more air and train travel in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year holidays.
China has placed Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on lockdown, as it is considered the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 and infected nearly 600.
Thailand has so far confirmed four cases of coronavirus, the largest number outside China. Two of the cases were Chinese women who have since been allowed to return home. Chinese tourists make up the largest group of visitors to Thailand.
At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, masked visitors lined up as usual to check in for Southern China Airlines flights back to China.
AirAsia said on Thursday it has canceled direct flights between Wuhan and cities in Thailand and Malaysia until Jan 28.
Matt Thomas, who lives in the Chinese city of Xian, said he was worried about the new Chinese virus, especially because he once contracted swine flu which he described as “awful.”
“I’m a bit worried that it will repeat. I have just got to be safe. In these sorts of situations, you know, take everything seriously, don’t take any risks,” Thomas said.
Chinese health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate, as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year.