Nine people were killed in an inferno in a multi-storeyed New Koilaghat building here on Strand Road which houses the zonal offices of Eastern and South Eastern Railways on Monday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. Out of them, four were firefighters, one assistant sub-inspector posted at the Hare Street police station and one RPF personnel, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Sujit Basu said.
As the fire raged through the building, 18 fire tenders with hydraulic ladders and skylifts were pressed into service to douse the blaze.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached the spot where Police Commissioner of Kolkata Soumen Mitra, Fire Services Minister Sujit Basu and Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim were already present. She has announced the state government will pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of those killed in the blaze and government job to a kin of each victim. The fire broke out on the 13th floor of the sprawling building at around 6.10 pm. It also has a computerised ticket booking centre on its ground floor.
“It’s a horrible fire. The victims perished because they tried to use the lift. We are apprehending two more deaths. Their bodies are yet to be recovered," the WB CM said after inspecting the scene.
Five of the nine who died had gotten trapped in a lift. “We will conduct an inquiry into why the firefighters and their police officer used the lift because it is completely against drill norms," said Sujit Basu.
The five victims reportedly tried to reach the 13th floor by elevator. Extreme heat on the floor singed them and forced them back inside the lift. They subsequently choked inside the lift.
“Our fire services department had asked for a building plan so that we could tackle the fire effectively, but we did not get any cooperation from railway officials. I don’t see any railway official at the spot even now. But I don’t want to do politics with such tragedies," Mamata alleged.
The fire may lead to large scale damage to documents in the Eastern Railway office. Power at the ER server room was turned off and online bookings of train tickets have been halted currently.
Traffic on the Strand Road in central Kolkata was stopped to expedite the process of dousing the fire. Disaster management personnel were also working at the site, officials said.