At least eighteen persons including 16 COVID-19 patients died in a fire at a hospital at Bharuch in Gujarat in the early hours of Saturday, officials said.
The state government said a judicial inquiry will be conducted into the fire that destroyed the Intensive Care Unit of Patel Welfare Hospital, run by a charitable trust.
"Sixteen coronavirus patients and two nursing staff were either charred to death or died due to suffocation inside a COVID-19 unit," Superintendent of Police Rajendrasinh Chudasama said.
As many as 50 patients were undergoing treatment at the COVID-19 facility on the ground floor when fire broke out in the ICU around 1 am, probably because of short circuit, said a hospital official.
The fire was doused within an hour. Local people and the kin of patients helped in the rescue operation during which dozens of patients were shifted to other facilities by ambulance. Some were brought out of the building on wheelchairs or on make-shift stretchers of cloth.
The four-storey designated COVID-19 hospital stands on the Bharuch-Jambusar highway, 190 km from Ahmedabad.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced ex- gratia aid of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased.
He also directed Additional Chief Secretary (Labour) Vipul Mittra and Commissioner of Municipalities Administration Rajkumar Beniwal to conduct inquiry. The two IAS officials arrived at the site on Saturday afternoon and visited the ICU.
The government will also institute a judicial inquiry into the tragedy, Rupani told reporters.
Vadodara Range Inspector General of Police Harikrishna Patel also visited the hospital. Teams of Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) and state-owned power distributor Dakshin Gujarat Vij Company also reached the spot.
Minister of State for Health Kumar Kanani told reporters that round-the-clock use of air conditioners and ventilators has increased the risk of fires at hospitals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah expressed grief over the incident.
"Pained by the loss of lives due to a fire at a hospital in Bharuch. Condolences to the bereaved families," Modi tweeted.
"I am extremely saddened by the fire accident at a hospital in Bharuch, Gujarat. I express my deepest condolences to the families of all the people who lost their lives in this accident and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured," Shah said in a tweet.
There were chaotic scenes outside the hospital as the authorities tried to calm down the wailing kin of the victims who blamed the hospital administration for the tragedy.
Inside, there were gut-wrenching sights as some patients had been charred to death beyond recognition on their beds or stretchers.
"The fire was so intense that the ICU ward was almost burnt to the ground. All the equipment inside, including ventilators and the fridge used to store medicines and also the beds were incinerated," a witness said.
A relative of a patient who was shifted to the civil hospital was seen looking for his case file in a heap of ashes. "I am looking for the file so that doctors where he was taken can start his treatment immediately," she said.
Earlier on March 26, four patients had died while shifting after a fire broke out at a hospital in Surat.