Calcutta illegal market hit by deadly fire

Fire crews at the scene of the fire in Calcutta, India (27 Feb 2013) Image copyright AP
Image caption Many people were sleeping inside the complex when the fire broke out

At least 20 people have been killed in a fire that swept through an illegal market in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta, police officials say.

The Surya Sen Market was housed in an old multi-storey building in the crowded Sealdah area of the city.

Several people were also seriously injured, and officials say the death toll could rise.

The deadly blaze was contained in three hours and it is thought there is no one left trapped inside.

The fire in the paper and plastic market broke out early on Wednesday morning while some people were sleeping inside the complex.

The head of the fire services Gopal Bhattacharya told AFP news agency that they "found dozens of people lying unconscious with severe burns" and that most of the victims had suffocated in their sleep.

Toxic gases were also released from the flammable materials present in the building, which hampered the rescue operations.

State Fire Services Minister Javed Khan told AFP: "The market has only one exit point and those who stayed in the market at night were trapped after the fire broke out."

Mr Khan also said the market was illegal and action would be taken "against the authorities for not having any fire safety arrangement".

'Unplanned buildings'

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, visiting the scene, promised a full investigation.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Officials said the building did not have adequate safety measures in place

She said there were many such illegal or "unplanned" buildings in the city and that "no-one follows any safety norms".

She announced compensation amounts of 200,000 rupees ($3,714; £2,461) for the families of those who died and 50,000 ($930; £610) rupees for the injured.

At least 25 fire engines were sent to the scene and the injured were taken to nearby hospitals.

The reason for the fire remains unknown, but some local officials said a short circuit due to faulty electrical wiring could be to blame.

A police investigation into the cause is now underway and Ms Banerjee said they will have a report ready within three days.

There have been several major fires in Calcutta in recent years.

In December 2011, around 90 people died in a blaze at a hospital. A year before that, 43 people died in a fire at the historic St Stephen's Court building on the city's Park Street.

In 2008, more than 2,500 shops were destroyed in a huge fire at one of the city's largest markets.

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