A fire engulfed a shoddily built budget hotel in central New Delhi early Tuesday, killing 17 people and injuring at least four others, including a woman from Myanmar who leapt from an upper floor to escape the flames, Indian authorities said.
Three of those killed were members of a family who had travelled to India’s capital from Kerala in southern India to attend a wedding, family friend Arvind Vishwanathan said outside a hospital mortuary.
Most of the deaths at the Arpit Palace Hotel in Karol Bagh, an area in India’s capital city popular with tourists because of its shops and budget hotels, were due to suffocation, said Satyendar Kumar Jain, the Delhi government minister of health and urban development, as he toured the site after the fire was extinguished.
The hotel developer had a permit from the fire department to build up to four stories – the standard height in central Delhi. But the building appeared to have six floors, including a basement and a kitchen built on top of the roof, Jain said.
“Carelessness on the part of authorities is evident. We are going to investigate, and the wrongdoer will be punished,” he said.
Hotel guest Sivanand Chand, 43, said he was jolted awake around 4 a.m., struggling to breathe.
“When I got out of my room, I could hear ‘help, help!’ from adjoining rooms,” Chand said.
The hallway was dark and thick with smoke, so Chand turned back into his room and opened a window. He saw flames rising fast.
“In 15 minutes, the whole room was black,” he said.
A video shot by a worker at a nearby hotel showed flames consuming the top of the building, which authorities said contained an unauthorized makeshift kitchen formed from sheets of fiberglass.
Chand said rescue efforts were delayed because the first fire trucks arrived with manual ladders that weren’t tall enough to reach his floor.
He and some other guests were eventually evacuated through his window by a hydraulic lift.
Some 100 firefighters and 25 fire engines responded to the fire, which engulfed all but the ground floor of the hotel, fire officer Vijay Paul said.
About three dozen people were rescued, Paul said.
It was not immediately clear how many guests and staff were inside the hotel, which had 43 guest rooms, according to its website.
Rescuers had to break windows to evacuate people because wood paneling in the corridors and stairwells fed the flames, said fire official Atul Garg.
“That is the escape route. People have to come out of the room and take the staircase but the staircase itself was on fire, so how they will go out?” Garg said.
In a video Garg shared with The Associated Press, firefighters can be seen carrying victims slumped over their shoulders through an unlit, charred stairwell.
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Authorities were still investigating what sparked the blaze, Deputy Police Commissioner Mandeep Singh Randhawa said.
Among those injured was a woman from Myanmar who sustained spinal injuries after jumping from an upper floor, according to Deputy Fire Chief Sunil Choudhary. She was being treated at a local hospital, he said, declining to provide her name.
The other injured people were also taken to hospitals, but their conditions were not immediately known.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet that he was deeply saddened by the loss of lives. “I convey my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. May the injured recover soon.”