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Some patients were to be released but fate willed otherwise

Kolkata: Trapped by thick, acrid smoke and flames that quickly filled the wards in the devastating fire that swept through AMRI Hospital, critically ill patients had to be evacuated with pulleys from the upper floors.

Some patients were to be released this morning but fate willed otherwise and they were consumed by the blaze that broke out around 3.30 AM at the multi-storey hospital.

Pathetic and heart rending scenes were witnessed at the privately run 190-bed hospital in south Kolkata as some of the survivors struggled to make good their escape after they were unable to use the ladders put up by the Fire brigade. 164 patients were in the hospital at the time of the fire of whom at least 85 perished. Four staff members were also killed.

Angry relatives of the victims poured out their anguish at their near and dear ones being consumed by fire when they were nursing hopes of a new life for the patients. They also targeted the hospital doctors and other medical staff.

Ajoy Ghosal, an 80-year old cancer patient, was to be released this morning but he was not lucky.

Ghosal, a political leader, died after inhaling the obnoxious smoke from the fire that engulfed the seven-storey centrally air-conditioned hospital building.

“He was shifted to the annexe building last evening only from the main hospital building and was to be released this morning,” Jishnu Choudhury, a relative of Ghosal, told PTI outside the multi-facility AMRI Hospital at Dhakuria in the southern part of the city.

There were many others like Ghosal, admitted to the super speciality hospital with the hope of recovering from their illness, who suffered the same fate.

“We had brought our patient here to survive and not to die like this. One has to spend lakhs of rupees to get their patients treated here and this is what we have got,” Bhanu Bhattacharya, whose daughter Shibani was admitted at the hospital, said.

Presenting a grim sight, more than 20 bodies were lying on the floor of an operation theatre on the second floor of the main building as anxious relatives milled around hoping desperately that their near and dear ones were not among them.

There were 164 patients in the building at the time of the fire, which started from the basement packed with inflammablestuff and engulfed the building.

Hospital sources said 94 patients have been shifted to other hospitals or to the main building of the AMRI Hospital.

Foul smell of the smoke spread through the annexe building and people fell unwell after inhaling it.

Glass shards from the broken panes were strewn all around the ground floor and outside.

For several hours there was no one to assist relatives of the patients. Angry over ‘mismanagement’, some relatives vandalised the reception at the main hospital building.

Ram Das, uncle of 30-year old Sampa Chowdhury, who died in the fire, said, “We are from Agartala in Tripura, my niece suffered injuries in a bus accident and was admitted her here on November 11.”

“I was staying in the waiting hall at night when I noticed the fire,” he said, adding he and several others asked security guards to bring down the patients.

“As smoke was billowing out, we requested them to bring out the patients, but they did not pay heed and said things will be alright,” Das said.

The relatives alleged there was little help from hospital staff and security personnel when the patients were gasping for breath in their beds.

Many of the patients who had been administered sedatives died in their sleep, while others could only helplessly watch the smoke enter their cabins through the doors and AC vents.

Locals, mainly from a nearby slum, rushed in for help when they detected the fire.

Uttam Haldar, one of the locals, said, “We rushed in when we came to know of the fire at around 3.30 am. With little help from hospital officials coming, we entered the building and broke the glass panes to let foul air pass.”

Manas Sau, another local, who assisted in the rescue effort, said, “The fire brigade with its fire tenders were waiting at the main gate which was locked, and only after much efforts that they were able to break in.”

The fire brigade personnel used snorkel ladders and other equipment to reach some of the patients and bring to safety.

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