(Eds: With more details, names of victims) Bharuch, May 1 (PTI) Eighteen persons including 16 COVID-19 patients and two trainee nurses died in a fire at a hospital at Bharuch in Gujarat in the early hours of Saturday, officials said.
The state government said a judicial inquiry will be conducted into the fire that destroyed the Intensive Care Unit of Patel Welfare Hospital, run by a charitable trust.
'Sixteen coronavirus patients and two nursing staff were either charred to death or died due to suffocation inside a COVID-19 unit,' Superintendent of Police Rajendrasinh Chudasama said.
As many as 57 patients were undergoing treatment at the COVID-19 facility, out of which 22 were in the ICU on the ground floor when fire broke out around 1 am, probably because of short circuit ,said a hospital official.
Apart from fire brigade personnel, around 100 policemen including 15 officers were deployed at the spot for the rescue operations. The fire was doused within an hour, a civic official said.
Local people and the kin of patients helped in the rescue operation during which dozens of patients were shifted to other facilities by ambulance. Some were brought out of the building on wheelchairs or on make-shift stretchers of cloth.
Police also had to control a nearly 15,000-strong crowd which gathered outside the hospital after hearing about the fire, but no law and order issue was reported, an official release of the Bharuch police said.
The four-storey designated COVID-19 hospital stands on the Bharuch-Jambusar highway, 190 km from Ahmedabad.
Assistant Police Commissioner Vikas Suda has been handed over the inquiry into the fire incident.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced ex- gratia aid of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased.
He also directed Additional Chief Secretary (Labour) Vipul Mittra and Commissioner of Municipalities Administration Rajkumar Beniwal to conduct inquiry. The two IAS officials arrived at the site on Saturday afternoon and visited the ICU.
The government will also institute a judicial inquiry into the tragedy, Rupani told reporters.
Minister of State for Health Kumar Kanani told reporters that round-the-clock use of air conditioners and ventilators has increased the risk of fires at hospitals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah expressed grief over the incident.
'Pained by the loss of lives due to a fire at a hospital in Bharuch. Condolences to the bereaved families,' Modi tweeted.
'I am extremely saddened by the fire accident at a hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat. I express my deepest condolences to the families of all the people who lost their lives in this accident and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured,' Shah said in a tweet.
There were chaotic scenes outside the hospital as the authorities tried to calm down the wailing kin of the victims who blamed the hospital administration for the tragedy.
Inside, there were gut-wrenching sights as some patients had been charred to death beyond recognition on their beds or stretchers.
'The fire was so intense that the ICU ward was almost burnt to the ground. All the equipment inside, including ventilators and the fridge used to store medicines and also the beds were incinerated,' a witness said.
A relative of a patient who was shifted to the civil hospital was seen looking for his case file in a heap of ashes.
'I am looking for the file so that doctors where he was taken can start his treatment immediately,' she said.
Several fire incidents have been reported in COVID-19 designated hospitals in Gujarat since the start of the pandemic.
On March 26 this year, four patients died while being shifted after a fire broke out at a hospital in Surat.
Eight Covid-19 patients had died in Shrey hospital in Ahmedabad in August 2020, while five patients had died in a fire at a private hospital in Rajkot in November last year.
COVID-19 patients who died in the fire on Saturday at Bharuch hospital were identified as Saeed Patel, Adam Sarighat, Ibrahim Randera, Yousuf Diwan, Aiasha Jolly, Arefa Mansuri, Shabina Patel, Rashida Morli, Renuka Solanki, Aiasha Patel, Hazrat Valisha Diwan, Julela Ismail Patel, Mehruben Musabhai, Yousuf Belim, Jarina Musabbhai and Mahendra Shrimali.
Madhvi Padhiyar and Farida Khatun, both trainee nurses, also perished In the blaze. PTI KA PD COR VT KRK KRK