Firemen could rescue 32 people from the star hotel-turned-coronavirus treatment facility at Vijaywada that went up in flames early Sunday (August 9) morning. Ten COVID-19 patients died in the blaze suspected to have been caused by a short circuit, the government said.
While one COVID-19 patient was charred to death, nine died of asphyxiation caused by the smoke, said Director General of Disaster Response and Fire Services Department Md Ahsan Raza. Of the 10 victims, three were women. A hotel staffer broke his back and was hospitalised after he jumped out a window on the first floor in a bid to save himself after the fire broke out.
A criminal case under Sections 304 (2) and 308 of Indian Penal Code has been registered against the managements of hotel Swarna Palace and Ramesh Hospitals even as the state government constituted two committees to conduct a detailed probe into the exact cause of the fire and other lapses that led to the tragedy.
The state government said negligence on the part of the Ramesh Hospital’s management in running the Covid Care Centre in the hotel since mid-July, was prima facie established. “Swarna Palace is a major fire hazard. It didn’t even have proper exit points and that made the rescue operation very difficult. We had to use ladders to bring down the trapped people,” said Raza.
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy announced an ex-gratia payment of ₹50 lakh each to the next of kin of the 10 victims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Reddy over phone and enquired about the incident. Reddy told him that a private hospital had taken the star hotel on lease to treat Covid-19 patients. The PM assured all possible help and support to the families of the victims, a release from the CMO said.
After inspecting the accident scene and holding a review meeting with higher officials, Deputy Chief Minister (Health) AKK Srinivas and Home Minister M Sucharita said 31 Covid-19 patients, six staff members each of the hospital and the hotel were inside when the fire broke out in the reception lobby on the ground floor and spread to the first floor.
“The hospital and hotel staff members are safe. Six patients, who had very mild symptoms, were sent to their homes, while another 15 were admitted to hospital,” they told reporters. Of the two committees constituted, one would examine whether the hospital management had requisite permission to run the CCC in a hotel and the other would probe the cause of the fire and related aspects.
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“We have prima facie found some negligence on the part of the hospital management. We have asked the committees to submit reports within 48 hours and we will take stern action based against them,” the ministers said. “Nobody will be spared if negligence on the part of anyone is found,” they asserted.
Replying to a question, they said 15 private hospitals have leased star hotels in Vijayawada city to run paid Covid Care Centres, as “extension centres” to their hospitals. “We are now examining whether these centres have permissions and also the specified facilities. We will take action if any lapses are found,” Srinivas and Sucharita added.
Sources in the AP Disaster Response and Fire Services Department had earlier said the fire apparently broke out due to an electrical short circuit in the hotel’s front lobby and spread to the first and second floors. As there was only one main stairway, the panicked patients tried to escape to safety using the stairway after they noticed the smoke.
“They should have actually used a different stairway on the rear side and that would have saved their lives. Unfortunately, they used the main one in a panicky situation and got caught in the fire,” a Fire official said. Since there was no other option, the Fire and NDRF
personnel used ladders to bring down other people, stranded inside the hotel, to safety.
(With inputs from agencies)