Indian authorities were investigating the cause of a devastating fire that killed at least 43 people in a factory in central New Delhi early Sunday, as relatives of the workers who were trapped inside waited outside a hospital mortuary to identify the dead.
Firefighters had to fight the blaze from 100 meters away because it broke out in one of the area’s many alleyways, tangled in electrical wire and too narrow for vehicles to access, authorities said.
A resident of the area, Mohammed Naushad, said he was woken by people wailing at around 4:30 a.m. He went outside to find smoke and flames shooting out of a building near Sadar Bazaar, New Delhi’s largest wholesale market for household goods. Inside, he found the fourth floor engulfed in flames. One floor below, he saw “20 to 25 people lying on the floor.”
“I don’t know if they were dead or unconscious, but they were not moving,” Naushad said.
He said he carried at least 10 people out of the flames on his shoulders and into the arms of emergency responders.
Outside the mortuary, which was guarded by dozens of police officers, some of the workers’ relatives said they received phone calls from the men trapped inside, who begged them to call the fire brigade.
Many of the men were migrant workers from the impoverished border state of Bihar in eastern India, relatives said. They earned as little as 150 rupees ($2.10) per day making handbags, caps and other garments, sleeping at the factory between lengthy shifts.
Many of the victims were asleep when the blaze began, according to Yogesh, a police spokesman who uses one name.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.
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