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Indian community in shock after 49 killed in Mangaf fire

A massive fire that engulfed an apartment block in the early hours of Wednesday morning claimed the lives of 49 workers and also left scores injured and hospitalized. Most of the victims were Indian workers, many of whom were from the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamilnadu. The tragic incident has left the Indian community in Kuwait in deep shock and sorrow, with a profound outpouring of sympathy and support from all quarters of the community.

Early on Friday, the special Indian Air Force plane carrying the mortal remains of the 45 Indians who succumbed to the fire took off from Kuwait headed for Kochi in Kerala. With the reported death on Friday of one more Indian worker, the death toll from Wednesday’s inferno climbed to 50; the identity of the latest victim was not released.

Latest figures show that out of the 176 Indian workers who were residing in the fire-gutted building, 46 have died, 33 are in various hospitals, and the rest are reportedly safe. The deceased are from various Indian states, including Kerala (23), Tamil Nadu (7), Andhra Pradesh (3), Uttar Pradesh (3), Odisha (2), and one each from Bihar, Punjab, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Haryana. The mortal remains will be handed over to representatives of the concerned state governments in Kochi and Delhi.

In response to the tragic incident, the government has ordered all relevant authorities to respond firmly to any building violation and to immediately take action against owners of properties that are found to violate building codes and municipality regulations. On Wednesday, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Interior, Sheikh Fahad Yousef Saud Al-Sabah, who rushed to the site on being informed of the accident, said the greed of building owners and violations of building codes were behind the tragic event.

Sheikh Fahad Al-Yousef also stated that starting from Thursday, teams from the municipality will begin inspecting all buildings and they will have the authority to remove any violation and take action against violators without any prior notice. He added that the Public Authority of Manpower will also start from tomorrow to study the issue of overcrowding of expat workers in buildings and the failure to comply with safety conditions. He later visited the injured who were hospitalized in various conditions and were admitted to different hospitals in the country.

The fire, which is believed to have broken out around 4am on the ground level of the six-floor building in Mangaf area, sent flames and thick black smoke billowing up the stairwell, trapping those on higher floors. Most of the deaths were attributed to smoke inhalation, while some were killed when they attempted to escape the flames by jumping down from the building. Sheikh Fahad Al-Yousef who arrived at the scene also ordered the immediate arrest of the Kuwaiti landlord of the building and the building’s Egyptian guard, and directed that they be kept in custody until investigations into the cause of the fire were fully completed.

According to the fire department, the fire was first reported at 4:23am and firefighters arrived at the scene five minutes later. The flames were doused within 10 minutes. When the fire subsided and smoke cleared came the grim task of counting and identifying the dead. Although the entire tragic incident occurred within a time span of less than 40 minutes, at the end of it there were 49 people who had lost their precious lives. Forty-five of the victims were identified as Indians, three were Filipino workers, and the identity of one was still being ascertained.

On Wednesday, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent a cable of condolences to the families of the victims, in which he expressed his sincere sorrow and deep sympathy to the families of the victims, and wished a speedy recovery to the injured. His Highness also directed officials to follow up to the causes of the fire outbreak and hold whomever responsible accountable.

His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah also sent similar cables of condolences on Wednesday to the families of the victims, in which he expressed his profound sorrow and condolences to the families of the victims, on the tragic accident that claimed the lives of their dear ones.

In a statement on Thursday, following an inspection tour of properties violating safety and building codes, Deputy Premier, Defense and Interior Minister Sheikh Fahad Al-Yousef Al-Sabah announced that His Highness the Amir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has ordered allocating a sum of money for families of each of the 49 who deceased from the fire on Wednesday. He also said that the bodies of the victims will all be transferred back to their homeland onboard Kuwaiti military airplanes.

For his part Foreign Minister Abdullah Al-Yahya spoke to Minister of External Affairs of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on Wednesday, and apprised him of the tragic incident. He conveyed the government and citizens’ deep condolences over the death of 49 expatriates, most of them Indians, in the fire that broke out in a residential building in Al-Mangaf, south of Kuwait city. He emphasized that Kuwait was utilizing all resources to care for the injured and meet their health and medical needs.

Following the incident, the Indian Ambassador H.E. Adarsh Swaika, immediately visited the location of the incident and also the hospitals to ascertain the welfare of the Indian nationals. He stated that the Embassy continues to coordinate with local authorities to assist Indian nationals who have been injured in this unfortunate incident and extend all possible support. The Embassy is receiving full cooperation from the Kuwaiti authorities.

On the directions of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh arrived in Kuwait on 13 June to coordinate with the Kuwaiti government for the early repatriation of the deceased and ensure the well-being of those injured in the tragic fire incident. In order to ensure the speedy repatriation of the deceased, the Indian government has arranged a special air force plane to transport the mortal remains of the Indian workers on the evening of 13 June. The flight is expected to reach Kochi in the morning of 14 June and will then proceed to Delhi.

Immediately upon his arrival, Minister Kirti Vardhan Singh visited the various hospitals where the injured Indians are being treated and met with all the injured workers. He also discussed their conditions with the concerned medical authorities who assured the minister that all the injured are safe and will be discharged progressively depending on their medical conditions.

During his visit the Indian minister met with the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Interior, Sheikh Fahad Yousef Saud Al-Sabah, who assured full support and assistance for the early repatriation of the deceased’s mortal remains and proper medical care for the injured. The minister also called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Ali Al-Yahya, and the Health Minister, Dr. Ahmad Abdelwahab Ahmad Al-Awadi. The ministers expressed Kuwait’s condolence on the sad incident and assured full support of the Kuwaiti government in addressing the incident’s aftermath.

In a statement following the preliminary investigation of Mangaf building, the head of Investigations at the Kuwait Fire Department Col. Sayed Al-Mousawi said that the team investigating the causes of the fire found inflammable material was used in partition walls between apartments and also between rooms. This he said caused the fire to spread rapidly and resulted in huge black clouds of smoke.

He added that many of the victims were found to have died from smoke inhalation as they tried to flee down the stairs that were filled with smoke. Also, the victims were unable to seek refuge on the rooftop as the door leading there was kept locked. Col. Mousawi added that the investigation team had also found around two dozen cooking gas cylinders on the building’s ground floor, and that the work of the fire teams was obstructed by many building violations observed both outside and within the building.

Human rights groups have regularly raised concerns over the living conditions of workers in labor camps in Kuwait, including overcrowding and limited facilities and amenities for the workers. However, NBTC, a leading construction firm in Kuwait, whose employees were living in the company-leased building that caught fire on Wednesday, is reportedly one of the handful of companies that has taken significant strides to ensure the welfare of the thousands of workers that it employs in various projects across Kuwait.

Amid reports of overcrowding and limited facilities, local media reported that the six-storey building that caught fire on Wednesday housed around 196 workers. Despite these speculations, on Thursday, the company announced an ex-gratia payment of around KD3,000 to each to the families of the deceased as an emergency aid. The company also promised employment to dependents of the victims and other allowances

On Thursday, following the conclusion of its investigations, the fire department said that the inferno was likely ignited by a faulty electrical circuit. Meanwhile, the public prosecution has started its own investigation into the fire to uncover the circumstances behind the incident and what might have triggered the deadly inferno.

Also on Thursday the prosecution ordered the remanding of a national and an expatriate on charges of ‘erroneous killing’ in the case of the fire that gutted an apartment building and took 49 lives. The Kuwaiti and the expatriate will be held in custody pending full investigation on several charges, including committing ‘killing and injury by error due to negligence of security and safety precautions against fires’. The prosecution said that investigations on the incident are still continuing.

The tragic accident on Wednesday that gutted the Mangaf building is considered the worst building fire incident and the second largest fire disaster in Kuwait’s history. In Jahra, on 15 August 2009, in what was the country’s worst fire disaster,
a woman apparently furious at her husband for abandoning her and getting married a second time, set ablaze his wedding tent killing 56 women and children who were participating in the wedding celebrations

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