‘People were running and screaming’: blaze at rooftop restaurant in Mumbai kills 15

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 12:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 10:39pm

At least 14 people were killed when a huge blaze tore through a popular restaurant in Mumbai early on Friday, police said, in the latest disaster to raise concerns about fire safety in India.

Many of the victims were young women who were at a birthday party on the rooftop when the fire broke out. Doctors said they died from asphyxiation, apparently as they tried to flee the burning building.

Local media reported that a false ceiling collapsed in the four-storey building in the Indian financial capital, trapping people inside as they tried to escape.

“Fourteen people have succumbed to their injuries and remaining victims have been discharged from the KEM hospital. Most of the deaths were due to asphyxiation,” said Avinash Supe, dean of the local KEM hospital.

Police said they were investigating the cause of the fire and had filed a preliminary case against the restaurant’s owners.

Five city officials have been suspended for negligence in connection with the fire, the Press Trust of India news agency reported, without giving details.

Eleven of the victims were women, and survivors said people were trapped in the toilets when the fire broke out.

“The ladies’ washroom was far away from the exit so many women died due to asphyxiation,” said Torel Thakur at Bhatia hospital in Mumbai, where her husband Pratik was being treated for burns. “Nobody inside the washroom could have survived.”

Pratik Thakur described the panicked scenes: “When the fire intensified, people were running and screaming for help and it was very chaotic ... Most of the people didn’t know about fire exit and started jumping over each other.”

Brothers Dhairya and Vishwa Lalani, both in their 20s, went to the restaurant for dinner. Their cousin Viral Chheda said the men were sitting near the exit and escaped, but went back in after realising their aunt was missing. She was one of the victims.

“We are utterly devastated,” Chheda said as he buried his cousins. “They tried to save lives and gave up their own.” He call for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Nearly 200 mourners were at the men’s funeral and several expressed concern and anger about safety standards in the city.

The blaze was at the city’s Kamala Mills compound, which also houses hotels and media organisations.

The Times Network, which runs several national news channels, said its operations had been affected.

“The magnitude of the fire was huge, disrupting our operations temporarily. All our employees were evacuated safely,” it said in a statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was “anguished by the fire in Mumbai”.