Kuwait’s worst-ever building fire puts spotlight on violations | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Kuwait’s worst-ever building fire puts spotlight on violations

Jun 14, 2024 08:22 AM IST

Deadly fire in Kuwait kills 49, mostly Indian workers, in worst building fire in country's history. Crackdown on housing violations underway.

New Delhi The devastating blaze in Kuwait that killed 49 people, mostly Indian workers, has been described as the worst building fire in the country’s history, triggering a crackdown by the local authorities on housing violations.

Union Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh calls on Kuwait Minister of Defense and Interior Sheikh Fahad Yousef Saud Al-Sabah, in Kuwait on Thursday. (Indian Embassy, Kuwait)
Union Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh calls on Kuwait Minister of Defense and Interior Sheikh Fahad Yousef Saud Al-Sabah, in Kuwait on Thursday. (Indian Embassy, Kuwait)

Forty-five Indians were among those who died on Wednesday when the fire engulfed a seven-storey building at Mangaf in southern Kuwait that housed foreign workers. Kuwait’s health minister Ahmad Al-Awadhi said 56 injured people were taken to local hospitals.

The incident was the worst building fire in Kuwait’s history and it gave rise to calls for action against landlords and company owners who “violate the law to house large numbers of foreign laborers in extremely unsafe conditions to cut costs”, the Kuwait Times newspaper reported.

The blaze was the second largest fire disaster in Kuwait in terms of the death toll. In August 2009, a woman angry over her husband getting married for the second time, had set a wedding tent on fire, killing 56 women and children.

Kuwait’s Fire Force announced after a field examination that the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit, state-run KUNA news agency reported. Kuwait’s public prosecutor ordered the remanding of a Kuwaiti national and an expatriate on charges of “erroneous killing” in connection with the fire.

The two persons, who weren’t identified, are being held on several charges, including “killing and injury by error due to negligence of security and safety precautions against fires”, the public prosecutor’s office said on X. A special team examined the scene of the fire and visited hospitals to question the injured.

Kuwait’s first deputy prime minister and interior minister, Sheikh Fahad Yousef Saud Al-Sabah, who is personally leading the campaign to check buildings housing foreign workers, said authorities began inspecting apartment blocks from Thursday and will crack down on all violations without warning.

Al-Sabah said Kuwait’s Public Authority of Manpower will examine the issue of overcrowding of expatriate workers in buildings and the failure to comply with safety conditions. The owner of the building where the fire occurred will be kept in custody till the investigation is completed, he said.

The building where the fire occurred had been rented by NBTC group, an engineering and construction firm partially owned by an Indian national, to house 196 workers, most of them Indians from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and northern states. Most of the dead and injured were from Kerala.

The fire erupted just after 4 am, when most of the residents of the building were asleep. It resulted in thick clouds of smoke that suffocated most of the victims, Kuwait Times reported, quoting officials from interior ministry and fire department.

The head of investigations at Kuwait’s fire department, Col Sayed Al-Mousawi, said a team probing the fire found an inflammable material was used as partitions between apartments and between rooms, and this caused the thick black smoke. Many victims suffocated while trying to run down stairwells filled with smoke, and people couldn’t go to the rooftop because the door was locked, he said.

Mousawi said the work of fire fighters was hindered by many violations inside and outside the building. An Egyptian national told reporters from his hospital bed it took him two hours to get out of the burning building with the help of fire fighters, and that he had seen several charred bodies.

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