India Official: We’re Trying to Avoid Future Fires

By MANIK BANERJEE | December 13, 2011

The top official in India’s West Bengal state told mourners Monday that her government was working to ensure that a hospital fire that killed 93 people would be the last tragedy of its kind.

Officials say lax safety standards contributed to the tragedy Friday at AMRI Hospital in Kolkata, where much of the staff fled, leaving patients to suffocate from smoke inhalation from the basement fire.

Seven hospital directors have been charged with culpable homicide, including one being treated for smoke inhalation. The hospital has denied violating safety procedures and vowed to investigate.

Hundreds of mourners gathered with top state ministers and senior police officials at a park near the hospital Monday to pay tribute to the victims.

Some lay floral wreaths at a one meter (three foot) concrete column that police had already erected in memory of the fire victims. A police band played a song in honor of those killed. The death toll from the fire rose to 93, with two of the injured dying.

“We must take steps to prevent recurrence of such tragedy. I will sit with all my departments and ensure that,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.

Banerjee also planned to honor 36 people from a nearby slum who struggled to rescue the patients from the burning building.

In the wake of the fire, officials across India have ordered hospital safety reviews. Safety regulations are routinely ignored in India, where fire stairways and evacuation drills are rare.

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