India hospital fire toll rises to 20, staff suspended


New Delhi (AFP)

Three staff at an Indian hospital have been suspended after a deadly blaze in the intensive care unit, authorities said on Tuesday, as the toll from the disaster rose to 20.

Fire broke out on Monday night in the dialysis ward of the hospital in eastern Odisha state before quickly spreading to other floors, killing 19 seriously ill patients who were unable to flee the blaze.

Another patient died in hospital on Tuesday after being rescued from the burning building, said police inspector Sharat Kumar Sahu.

"The toll is now 20 as one more person has succumbed to his injuries," he told AFP.

"We can also confirm that three mid-level hospital staff have been suspended prima facie (for) negligence."

About 40 critically ill patients were in the ICU of the SUM hospital in state capital Bhubaneswar when the fire broke out.

In all more than 100 were rescued by firefighters who smashed windows to get them out of the burning building.

"Some patients were evacuated by breaking a window on the first floor and then they were lowered to the ground floor. And some of them were evacuated through the adjoining operation theatre which was empty at that time," said Odisha's health secretary Arti Ahuja.

"There are about 106 people who are (now) in different private and government hospitals," she told the NDTV news channel.

In a separate incident, two people died early on Tuesday morning when a high-rise luxury apartment block in the western city of Mumbai caught fire.

Firefighters said 11 people had to be rescued from the blaze and two died of asphyxiation after they became trapped in the stairwell. The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.

Such disasters are relatively common in India, partly because of poor safety standards.

In 2011 more than 90 patients were killed in the eastern city of Kolkata when a fire raged through a private hospital, trapping many people inside the building.

Most died from inhaling toxic gases.

Ahuja said the hospital in Odisha had been sealed off and a detailed inquiry would be carried out to establish the cause of the disaster.

Local television stations showed images of firefighters wearing masks smashing glass panes to enter the building.

Police inspector Sahu said more than 100 firefighters had battled the blaze for around five hours until it was brought under control.

Most of the critical patients were on ventilators and died in the blaze, he said.

The state's chief minister Naveen Patnaik said on Tuesday that he had visited the evacuated patients in hospital and ordered an inquiry into what he called a "tragic incident".

A government relief fund would bear the cost of their treatment, he said on Twitter.