Kolkata market fire kills at least 18

KOLKATA Wed Feb 27, 2013 2:23pm IST

Fire fighters try to extinguish a fire at a multi-storey market complex in Kolkata February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Fire fighters try to extinguish a fire at a multi-storey market complex in Kolkata February 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

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KOLKATA (Reuters) - A fire swept through a six-storey building housing an illegal market in Kolkata before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least 18 people.

Most of the victims, including a woman, died of asphyxiation after the fire broke out around 3 a.m. while they were asleep.

The victims were mostly labourers who worked in the building and slept there at night.

"We have recovered 18 bodies so far," Javed Khan, fire services minister in West Bengal, told Reuters.

Officials said rescue operations were hampered since the building had only one exit. The fire occurred in a congested area of Sealdah with little or no fire safety arrangements.

A short circuit may have caused the blaze, they said.

Sealdah is known for its wholesale markets, where retailers source goods including paper and plastic products.

"My shop storing medicines was completely gutted," said a shopkeeper at the scene. "I am ruined".

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee blamed unplanned construction for the fire and said people living in such buildings should be moved to night shelters.

"Kolkata neighbourhoods are unplanned and the situation is really serious in some areas," she said.

(Writing by Tony Tharakan)

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