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At least 35 dead in hospital fire in eastern India
At least 35 dead as fire sweeps through hospital in eastern India
By The Associated Press

KOLKATA, India (AP) ' A fire swept through a hospital in the Indian city of Kolkata early Friday, killing at least 35 people and sending emergency workers scrambling to evacuate patients and medical staff from the smoke-filled building, officials said.

Firefighters on long ladders smashed windows in the upper floors of the AMRI Hospital to pull trapped patients out before they suffocated, while sobbing relatives waited on the street below. Rescue workers took some patients on stretchers and in wheelchairs to a nearby hospital.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said most of the dead had suffocated, and implied that hospital negligence caused the tragedy.

"It's a very serious offense, and we will take the strongest action," she said at the scene.

The fire erupted in the building's basement and heavy smoke quickly engulfed the hospital. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

It took firefighters more than an hour to arrive after the blaze started, said Pradeep Sarkar, a witness. His uncle was hospitalized hours earlier after suffering a heart attack at home and he was moved to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Banerjee said that while the fire brigade had difficulty getting to the building, police arrived quickly to help with the rescue effort.

Dozens of fire engines eventually arrived at the hospital. By midmorning, the fire was under control and most of the patients had been evacuated to other hospitals in the area, said Javed Khan, the state fire services minister.

A police official told The Associated Press that at least 35 bodies were pulled from the hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Rescue workers at the scene said the death toll could rise significantly.

Sirhad Hakeem, a minister in the West Bengal government, said the hospital basement was being used as a storage area, although it was originally planned as a parking lot.

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