(Eds: Adding details, quotes and reactions) Bhandara, Jan 9 (PTI) Ten newborn babies died after a fire broke out in the Special Newborn Care Unit of a state-run hospital at Bhandara in Maharashtra in the early hours on Saturday while seven babies were rescued, doctors said.
The deceased infants were aged between one month and three months, a doctor said.
State health minister Rajesh Tope told reporters that at least three of the ten infants died of burn injuries while seven others died of suffocation caused by smoke.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has expressed grief over the incident and ordered a probe, an official statement said.
Tope said Rs 5 lakh would be paid to family members of each of the deceased infant.
According to doctors, the blaze erupted in the Special Newborn Care Unit of the hospital around 1.30 am. Ten out of the 17 babies in the affected unit died while seven babies were rescued, a senior doctor at the hospital said.
'The preliminary information available indicated that three infants died from burn injuries in the Bhandara district civil hospital while suffocation caused by smoke is the cause of the death of seven other infants,' Tope said in a video message.
District civil surgeon Pramod Khandate said the fire broke out at the Bhandara district hospital around 1.30 am.
'There were 17 babies in the unit and seven were rescued,' he added.
A nurse first noticed smoke coming out from the neonatal section of the hospital and alerted doctors and other staff who reached there in five minutes, he said.
Fire brigade personnel rescued seven babies from the 'inbound ward' of the unit but could not save the 10 other babies, he said.
Khandate said the ward where newborn babies are kept requires a continuous supply of oxygen. 'There were fire extinguishers and staff used them while trying to douse the fire. There was too much smoke,' he added.
He said patients from the ICU ward, dialysis wing and labour ward (a room in a hospital set aside for childbirth) were also shifted to other wards safely.
The cause of the fire in the four-storey building is yet to be ascertained but could have been the result of an electric short circuit, he said.
Tope said, 'The medical staff on duty at the hospital opened the windows and doors of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit wards and shifted the infants to adjoining wards.
However, they could not save the 10 infants. The hospital staff saved seven other infants admitted in the affected unit'.
He said the guilty will not be spared.
The tragedy evoked condolences from President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and others.
'Heart-wrenching tragedy in Bhandara, Maharashtra, where we have lost precious young lives. My thoughts are with all the bereaved families. I hope the injured recover as early as possible,' Modi tweeted.
In his tweet posted in Hindi, President Kovind said, 'I am deeply saddened by the untimely death of infants in a fire accident in Bhandara, Maharashtra. My heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their children in this heart-wrenching event'.
Rahul Gandhi has appealed to the Maharashtra government to provide all possible assistance to the families of the deceased and the injured.
The Congress is a constituent in the Shiv Sena-led state government.
'The unfortunate incident of fire at Bhandara District General Hospital in Maharashtra is extremely tragic. My condolences to the families of the children who lost their lives,' Gandhi said in a tweet.
'I appeal to Maha Govt to provide every possible assistance to the families of the injured & deceased,' he said.
In a statement, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has expressed profound grief.
'Extremely saddened to know about the most tragic incident of fire at Bhandara civil hospital. Convey my deepest condolences to the families of the innocent children who lost their lives,' he stated.
Terming the death of the ten infants a 'very painful' incident, former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has demanded a thorough probe. PTI CLS MR ND VT NSK NSK