Kolkata fire: 26 dead, 2 arrested
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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 19:19
  
Kolkata: Eight more bodies were recovered from the 150-year-old heritage building on upscale Park Street, raising the toll in the devastating fire that swept the complex to 26 with another 29 reported missing as the blaze was brought under control Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, sources have said that an FIR has been filed and the police have claimed to have made two arrests in this connection. Building caretakers Arun Bagadia and Shanker Singh who were detained earlier in the day for questioning have been nabbed.

Firefighters, who began search operations from the top floor of the seven-storey building 'Stephen Court' housing restaurants, offices and residences, said the bodies were recovered from the fifth and sixth floors.

Smoke was billowing out from two pockets on the top floors which caught fire yesterday afternoon, but the blaze was under complete control, fire officials said.

So far, six of the dead have been identified, while 20 injured have been admitted to hospitals.

Preliminary investigations indicated that the fire may have broken out due to a short circuit in a lift between the fifth and sixth floors.

A single lane of Park Street which was entirely closed to traffic after the fire, was reopened this morning as a number of shops around the building were back to business.

"We are waiting for the forensic team. Once they visit the building and collect samples, we will escort the residents back so that they can collect their belongings," a police officer said.

"Please leave us alone. We are lucky to have escaped with our lives. We are in no mood to speak," said a resident, who along with other inmates was still recovering from the shock.

West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited the building for 10 minutes on his way to the State Secretariat.

Police Commissioner Goutam Mohan Chakraborty told newsmen later that the chief minister had instructed the police and the fire brigade to quickly rescue anyone trapped inside and asked the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to pull down the damaged portion of the building.

Chakraborty said there was hardly any possibility of anyone remaining alive in the affected portion of the building and the fire brigade was still looking for bodies.

Houses and offices on the top floor were the worst- affected. Computers, air-conditioners, office furniture and household belongings were completely burnt in the raging fire.

The state government had yesterday ordered evacuation of the building. Home Secretary Ardhendu Sen said the occupants would be allowed to return only after obtaining clearance from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said the burnt portion of the building would be pulled down.

The police commissioner said, "The fifth and sixth floors of the building were constructed illegally. These were later regularised."

Rescue operations were hampered as the police and fire brigade were not provided with the building plan, police commissioner said.

"We had asked the building association president for a plan of the building and a list of tenants, but these were not provided to us. If we had the list, we could have saved some more people," he said.

A number of people tried to escape through the roof of the building, but could not do so as the gate was locked, he said.

Fire brigade sources said that the blaze could have been possibly caused by a leak in a power cable of the building's elevator and could have spread through rubber and plastic cables to upper floors.

Stephen Court has four blocks and a common terrace, and the main stairs in the building were made of wood which were gutted as the fire spread.

According to records with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, there is one official trustee of the building along with 45 apportioned share holders.

KMC has declared Stephen Court as a Grade-II heritage building for its architectural value.

The two top floors, where the fire broke out, were added in 1984 and have 32 apartments.

PTI


First Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 19:19


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