A fire broke out at a hotel being used as a Covid-19 treatment facility in Andhra Pradesh’s Vijayawada city early on Sunday, killing 10 patients, officials said.
About 31 patients of the coronavirus disease were in the facility, most of them deep in sleep, along with six medical personnel and six hospital staff in the facility at the time the fire broke out. The 10 victims suffocated to death.
The hotel – Swarna Palace – was being used as a care centre for Covid-19 patients by the privately run Ramesh Hospitals.
According state health minister Alla Kali Krishna Prasad, the fire broke out at around 4.45 am on the ground floor of the hotel and spread to the first and second floors. Preliminary investigations by the police revealed that the fire was the result of a short-circuit in the electric wiring.
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Flames engulfed the building and thick plumes of smoke billowed from the entire building. Some the medical personnel and hotel staff managed to escape by running out and four of them jumped off the first and second floors to save their lives. A security guard, Krishna Reddy, suffered injuries by falling to the ground.
Many of the patients were fast asleep when the fire broke out. Some young patients tried to run out of the rooms but did not know how to escape because of the fire and smoke that engulfed the building. .
“I did not know in which direction I was moving. I managed to open the window panes and come out shouting for help. I picked up courage and informed the police,” a young patient, Pavan Sai, said in a video message.
Vijayawada city police commissioner B Srinivasulu said the police control room had received a call at around 5.15 am about the fire breaking out in the hotel. The minister, however, said the fire station, which is situated less than a kilometre away from the hotel, received the first call at 5.09 and within five minutes, the fire tenders arrived at the scene.
“The fire was brought under control within a couple of hours,” the minister said. After putting out the fire, the firemen and personnel of the National Disaster Response Force brought out the bodies of 10 patients. The bodies were shifted to the Vijayawada government hospital for post-mortem.
The dead were identified as: Kosaraju Suvarnalath (42) of Nidabrolu village of Ponnur block in Guntur district; Dokku Siva Brahmaiah (59) of Machilipatnam in Krishna district; Potluri Purnachandra Rao of Kodali in Krishna district; Sunkara Babu Rao (80), Indira Nagar, Vijayawada; Majji Gopi (54) of Machilipatnam; G Venkata Jaya Lakshmi (52) of Kandukuru in Prakasam district; Venkata Narasimha Pavan Kumar (40) of Kandukuru in Prakasam; Sabbili Ratna Abraham (48), Rajakumari (40), both from Jaggayyapet; and Maddali Raghu (40) of Moghulraja Puram, Vijayawada.
In all, the firemen rescued 18 Covid-19 patients, mostly by bringing them out through the windows, using ladders. All the rescued Covid-19 patients were taken to Ramesh Hospitals, where they were declared out of danger. Three others were moved to a different hotel.
Endowments minister Vellampalli Srinivas, district collector Imtiaz Ali and director general of police Gautam Sawang supervised the rescue operation.
Following a formal complaint from Vijayawada Central tehsildar (block revenue official), the police registered criminal cases against the managements of Ramesh Hospitals and Swarna Palace Hotel under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 308 read with 34 (acts amounting to culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code.
The tehsildar said Ramesh Hospital had a memorandum of understanding with Swarna Palace Hotel to operate a Covid-19 facility on a paid basis. “It appears that the management of the hotel and Ramesh Hospitals had known that there are electrical defects in the lodge (hotel), and as rectification of defects involved a huge amount, they avoided repairing it. Knowing the fact that if the defects were not rectified, there is a possibility of an accident, they opened the Covid-19 care centre,” the official said.
The health minister said a committee had been formed to prepare a detailed report on the fire within 48 hours. “Preliminary report says the hospital and the hotel managements are at fault. We asked for a detailed report so that stringent action can be initiated against those responsible”, the minister said.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on Sunday announced ex gratia of Rs 50 lakh to the kin of the deceased. He ordered an in-depth probe into the incident
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences and spoke to the chief minister over the phone about the fire.