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43 People Die In Factory Fire In Old Quarter Of New Delhi


Now to India, where firefighters today have finally managed to put out the flames in a crowded part of the capital, New Delhi. At least 43 people were killed in a factory fire Sunday in the city's old quarter. Many of those who died were migrants who came from other parts of the country. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: New Delhi's Karol Bagh neighborhood is a warren of alleys packed with factories, warehouses and shops, all tangled with electricity wires. Authorities say it was a short circuit that sparked Sunday's fire before dawn in a handbag factory there. Passageways are so narrow, fire trucks couldn't get close.


FRAYER: So they had to park, unfurl hoses and shoot water in from 100 yards away. Inside the factory, about 100 workers were sleeping. In India, migrant laborers have flocked to big cities like Delhi. And they often sleep at their workplace to save money to send home to their families. Indian media are airing audio of emotional phone calls made by some of those workers trapped inside.



FRAYER: Monu Agarwal (ph) got a call from his friend Mohammed Musharraf (ph) around 5 a.m. Mohammed tells him he's inside the burning factory. Monu tells him to run, to try to escape. Then Mohammed makes a last request to his friend.

MUSHARRAF: (Speaking Hindi).

FRAYER: "Monu, take care of my children and my home," he says. Monu rushed to the capital four hours away but told reporters there that his friend was among the dead.

RITU SAXENA: (Speaking Hindi).

FRAYER: A doctor, Ritu Saxena (ph), told local TV most of the victims she treated died from inhaling smoke from combustible materials that emitted toxic fumes.

ARVIND KEJRIWAL: ...Magisterial inquiry...

FRAYER: Wading into a crowd of mourners, Delhi's chief minister promised compensation of a few years' salary to each victim's family. These are workers who make as little as $2 a day. He also promised harsh penalties for factory owners if they were found negligent. Two men, one of the owners and a manager, have been detained for questioning. Meanwhile, politicians are bickering on India's 24-hour news channels...


FRAYER: ...Pointing fingers over the country's notoriously lax fire safety. Building regulations are so often flouted across India that fires like this one are sadly quite common. Earlier this year, 17 people died in a fire in the very same wholesale market. The Delhi fire chief says this factory didn't even have a single fire extinguisher. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.