- Fire broke out at Takshashila Complex in Surat this afternoon
- Many students jumped off the building to escape the fire
- The fire, that started this afternoon, has been extinguished
At least 20 people, mostly students, were killed after a massive fire broke out at a coaching centre in Gujarat's Surat on Friday afternoon. Videos posted by witnesses on social media showed several students jumping out of windows on the top floor of the four-storey building to escape the blaze.
Most of the students are said to be between the ages of 14 and 17. "The fire started near the staircase, so they could not get down," Joint Commissioner of Police Harikrishna Patel said
Disturbing visuals showed people on the pavement asking the students to jump off the burning building, hoping to catch them. Among those seen falling was a young child. "Some of these students are critical but the crowd managed to save their lives," Darshana Jardosh, the parliamentarian from Surat, told NDTV.
The fire, which broke out at around 3:30 pm, engulfed the top two floors of the commercial building called Takshashila Arcade in the Sarthana area of Surat, officials said. About 50 or 60 people were inside when the fire broke out, covering the area in huge plumes of smoke.
The fire was likely caused due to an electrical short circuit, Mr Patel said. A video showed an electrical box of high-voltage cables outside the building on fire. An FIR (First Information Report) has been filed against the owner of the building, the person who conducted the class and the man who constructed the building. They are on the run.
Officials told news agency AFP that the fire spread quickly because of the material used in the roof of the building. It did not have a functioning fire escape.
A fire official said 19 fire engines were sent in to tackle the fire. "The toll has jumped to 19 and includes 16 females. Sixteen persons died because of burns and three others from injuries after they jumped," Jayesh M Patel, medical officer at Surat Municipal Institute of Medical Education and Research, told AFP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the incident.
Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat. My thoughts are with bereaved families. May the injured recover quickly. Have asked the Gujarat Government and local authorities to provide all possible assistance to those affected.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 24, 2019
Deeply saddened by the news of Surat fire tragedy. Instructed officials to do needful. My prayers are with all those affected. May those who have been injured recover at the earliest. I pray for the departed souls. Om Shanti.— Vijay Rupani (@vijayrupanibjp) May 24, 2019
An investigation has been ordered into the incident and a report expected in three days. The state government has also ordered a fire safety audit of all schools, colleges and coaching centres in the state. It has promised to give Rs 4 lakh to each of the families of those killed.
Fire safety in India is often neglected leading to devastating tragedies with alarming frequency. More than 17,000 people died in fires in 2015 alone, according to government data, the last year for which figures are available, one of the largest causes of accidental death in the country.