Such was the fury of the fire in a 4-storey building in Delhi on Friday that rescuers were still frantically searching for survivors, with the police saying that 29 people remained unaccounted for.
Distraught relatives gathered outside the building in the congested outer Delhi industrial locality, keeping their fingers crossed. But the hope that some of their relatives could still be alive in the smouldering embers was ebbing by the hour.
For the moment, the death toll is 30; it went up with the discovery of charred human remains during cooling operations on Saturday morning. It took the authorities some time to ascertain whether the remains were of one person or more.
Twelve injured persons are also undergoing treatment at a hospital.
The fire department said the four-storey building, which did not have a fire safety certificate, had a single entry and exit point. This could possibly explain the high casualties.
The building also did not have a no-objection certificate from the fire department, an officer said.
It is suspected that an explosion in an AC unit may have triggered the fire.
Brothers Harish and Varun Goel, owners of a CCTV camera and router manufacturing and assembly unit, in whose office the fire is suspected to have emanated, have been arrested. Their father is missing.
Ankit, who works at an office in the building, recounted his escape.
"I am very fortunate that I am alive. A motivational session was being held on the second floor of the building when we noticed the blaze. We broke the glass windows and somehow managed to escape," he said.
A police official said there is no information on the motivational speaker or his whereabouts.
The soot blackened walls of the building and the mound of debris told their own story; this was the second largest blaze since a fire at a factory in the Anaj Mandi area in December 2019 killed 44 people and the third largest since the Uphaar Cinema tragedy in 1997, in which 59 people lost their lives.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who visited the spot with his deputy Manish Sisodia, announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured.
Families, some in tears, and others too stunned to react, thronged the hospital for some news, any news. Many waited for identification of the charred bodies, hoping desperately that their loved ones were not among them.
Ludhiana resident Aman Kumar broke down while talking about his fiancée Drishti, who worked in the building. "I was supposed to marry her in November this year," the 30-year-old said when asked who was admitted in the hospital.
His relative Jatin said Drishti had in the tragedy but her body is yet to be identified.
"We got to know about the incident at 5.30 pm and rushed to Delhi from Ludhiana. She didn't survive," he said.
Kavita, 17, a resident of Madanpur village, was looking for her sister who worked in the CCTV manufacturing unit and was the only earning member of the family.
The tragedies were many.
Ajit Tiwari said his 21-year-old sister Monika had started working for the company just a month back.
"She received her first salary on Thursday. We got to know about the fire at 5 pm, but had no idea that the blaze broke out in her office building. When she did not return home by 7 pm, we started looking for her," he said.
Videos that emerged on social media showed thick plumes of smoke billowing from top of the building as people trapped inside could be heard crying for help while some jumped down in a desperate attempt to escape the flames.
Some could be seen using ropes to escape.
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