At least 43 people have died in a fire at a factory in New Delhi which authorities believe was caused by an electrical short circuit.
Relatives of the workers who were trapped inside the building near Sadar Bazaar, the Indian capital’s largest wholesale market for household goods, identified the dead from photos on police officers’ phones.
Assistant New Delhi police commissioner Anil Kumar Mittal said “the fire appears to have been caused by electric short circuit,” adding that authorities were investigating whether the factory was operating legally.
The building’s owner, Rihan, who goes by one name, was detained on suspicion of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, Mr Mittal said.
Firefighters had to fight the blaze from 100 metres away because it broke out in one of the area’s many alleyways, tangled in electrical wire and too narrow for vehicles to access.
Resident Mohammed Naushad said he was awoken by people wailing at about 4.30am on Sunday.
He went outside to find smoke and flames shooting out of the building and, inside, he found the fourth floor engulfed in flames. One floor below, he saw “20 to 25 people lying on the floor”.
Outside a mortuary that was guarded by dozens of police officers, some of the workers’ relatives said they had 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.
The fire in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 8, 2019
They earned as little as 150 rupees (£1.59) per day making handbags, caps and other garments, sleeping at the factory between long shifts.
Many of the victims were asleep when the blaze began, according to Yogesh, a police spokesman who uses one name.
Dr Kishore Singh said rescuers brought victims to his government-run hospital and two others in the city. Another 16 people were being treated for burns or smoke inhalation and were in stable condition, Mr Singh said.
New Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, appeared at the scene of the fire, promising victims’ families compensation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the fire as “extremely horrific.”
“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery,” Mr Modi tweeted.