At least 18 students were killed after a fire broke out of the Takshashila Arcade in the Sarthana area of Surat on Friday afternoon. The fire engulfed the top two floors of the building, which housed a coaching centre. Most of the students are said to be between 14 and 17 years old.
A fire official said 19 fire engines had been sent to control the fire. “Students on fourth and third floor jumped off to the ground to save themselves from fire and smoke. Many have been rescued and sent to hospital. The operation to douse the fire is on,” a fire official told news agency PTI.
Navsari lawmaker CR Patil told NDTV that the building which caught fire had no fire exit, adding that the fourth floor – where the coaching centre was located – was an illegal construction.
Videos recorded by witnesses and shared on social media showed students jumping off the top floor of the building to escape the blaze.
Several politicians have tweeted messages of support and condolences, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
The Prime Minister said, “Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat. My thoughts are with bereaved families. May the injured recover quickly. Have asked the Gujarat Government and local authorities to provide all possible assistance to those affected.”
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, who has ordered a probe into the matter and also announced compensation of Rs 4 lakh to each of the families of children who died, said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy and had instructed his government “to do needful”.
The Chief Minister’s tweet read: Deeply saddened by the news of Surat fire tragedy. Instructed officials to do needful. My prayers are with all those affected. May those who have been injured recover at the earliest. I pray for the departed souls. Om Shanti.”
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi, saying, “The news of this incident in Surat, Gujarat has caused great sorrow. Against the afflicted families, I express deep condolences and condolences. Wishing the wounded to be healthy as soon as possible.”
Senior BJP leaders Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh also sent messages on Twitter.
Mr Shah said, “Deeply anguished by the loss of lives due to a tragic fire accident in Surat, Gujarat. My condolences with the bereaved families. I pray for the speedy recovery of those injured. I urge our karyakartas of BJP Surat unit to assist the people in need.”
Mr Singh wrote, “Deeply saddened by the loss of precious lives due to fire in Surat. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala, Ahmed Patel and Hardik Patel also tweeted on this tragic incident.
The Congress party also sent a message of support, tweeting that they were “shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of lives of children.”
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tweeted, “Extremely sad news from Gujarat. Our thoughts are with bereaved families. May local authorities provide all possible assistance to those affected and the injured recover quickly.”
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said “it is heartbreaking to see the images coming from Gujarat and read the tragic news about the children who have lost their lives at such a young age.”
Meanwhile, National Conference chief Omar Abdullah hit out at poor fire safety standards in the country, saying, “My heart goes out to the parents & loved ones of the children killed in the fire in Surat.This mind-numbing tragedy once again drives home how poor our building codes & fire safety standards are.May the souls of the deceased rest in peace & may the injured make a speedy recovery.”
Fire safety in India is often neglected leading to devastating tragedies with alarming frequency. More than 17,000 people died in fires in 2015 alone, according to government data, the last year for which figures are available, one of the largest causes of accidental death in the country.
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