NEW DELHI: At least 43 people were killed on Sunday in a devastating fire that ripped through a bag factory in the congested old quarter of the Indian capital New Delhi, with survivors describing the screams of scores of trapped workers who were sleeping inside.

The blaze was the worst in Delhi since 59 movie-goers died in a cinema in 1997, with the city’s poor planning and enforcement of building and safety regulations often responsible for such deadly incidents.

Tearful relatives spoke of receiving desperate calls from factory workers begging to be freed from the inferno in the dark, poorly lit premises in the commercial hub of Sadar Bazar from around 5am.

One father who was trapped inside the four-storey structure made a desperate phone call to ask that his children be looked after.

Cause of the blaze remains unknown

“Monu, brother, I am going to die today,” the man, named Musharaff said in the recording of a call played by the ABP Hindi language news channel.

“Please take care of my kids. I can’t breathe. There are so many others here. Just can’t breathe,” he kept repeating in Hindi, eventually breaking down towards the end of the call.

Authorities do not yet know if Musharaff survived the blaze.

One survivor, Sabi Abbas, said he had just finished work and was about to go to sleep when he heard screams from the third floor.

“I rushed to the floor and saw the wires were dangling and on fire as acrid smoke filled up the corridor,” he said, adding that he ran out of the building with his wife and daughters.

Locals said the factory also made purses and jackets, and had just one entrance and 20 rooms on each floor that were connected by one internal stairway. “After the fire, people didn’t have any way to get out and I believe many were asleep and because of the smoke, they got suffocated,” a witness said. Others said they believed the fire started on the first floor, sparked by exposed wires, before spreading to an area used to store foam and plastic chairs.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known, but Delhi’s fire services director said that the site had been operating without the required fire safety clearances.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2019