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New Delhi commercial building fire leaves 27 dead

CBS News logo CBS News 5/14/2022 Arshad R. Zargar

New Delhi — At least 27 people were killed and 12 injured in a commercial building fire in the Indian capital on Friday.

The fire started around 4:40 p.m. local time in the first floor of a four-story building that housed some shops and the office of a private company. Dozens of people were inside the building when the blaze started. At least 50 people were rescued from the building located in the Mundka area in western New Delhi. 

More than 20 people were still missing, police said at noon on Saturday. Atul Garg, the director of the Delhi Fire Services, told reporters that the building had only one exit, and it was not equipped with fire safety equipment like extinguishers. The fire spread quickly as inflammable plastic material used in the manufacturing of security cameras and stacks of packaging cardboard were stored in the building, Garg told reporters. 

The government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. Police arrested Harish Goel and Varun Goel, owners of the company that made the security cameras. The two could be charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and criminal conspiracy.

If convicted, their punishment could range from facing a jail sentence of 10 years and a fine, or life imprisonment if the prosecution proves they caused the deaths intentionally.

A fire in a New Delhi commercial building on May 13, 2022 left 27 dead and 12 injured. / Credit: Arshad Zargar © Provided by CBS News A fire in a New Delhi commercial building on May 13, 2022 left 27 dead and 12 injured. / Credit: Arshad Zargar

Deputy Commissioner of Police Sameer Sharma told CBS News they were questioning the owners of the security company. The owner of the building, Manish Lakra, is on the run, police said.

Eyewitnesses said some people smashed the glass walls of the building to jump down, but ended up injuring themselves.

"Most of the people working in the building were young women," Pankaj Ojha, a resident of the area, told CBS News.

A woman's sandal laying outside a New Delhi commercial building that caught fire on May 13, 2022. The fire left 27 dead. / Credit: Arshad Zargar © Provided by CBS News A woman's sandal laying outside a New Delhi commercial building that caught fire on May 13, 2022. The fire left 27 dead. / Credit: Arshad Zargar

The fire was so massive that it took the fire fighters more than nine hours to completely douse it. The search for bodies in the building continued through the night. Fires are common in India, where building safety norms are often violated. In 2019, 43 people were killed in a fire in a New Delhi building that was caused by electrical short circuit.The cause of Friday's fire is being probed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened by the loss of lives and wished for the speedy recovery of the injured.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi's chief minister, announced 1 million Indian rupees compensation (about $12,900 in U.S. dollars) for the families of the dead, and 50,000 rupees (about $645 in U.S. dollars) for the injured.

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