MUMBAI • Fire swept through a rooftop restaurant in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai, killing at least 14 people, most of them women attending a birthday party, including the celebrant who had just turned 28, police and family said.
The fire department received a call about the blaze in a commercial building in the Kamala Mills district at around 3am yesterday, an official said.
The fire started at 1 Above, a popular bar-restaurant on the top floor, and engulfed the four-storey building in less than 30 minutes, media reported.
"My granddaughter has died. It was her birthday today. No one bothered to check... this restaurant had no fire extinguisher, no equipment to put out fires, no proper outlets. The civic bodies and police did nothing," grandfather of birthday girl Khushboo Mehta was quoted by India's NDTV as saying.
In a video taken on a mobile phone before the fire broke out, Ms Mehta was seen cutting a chocolate cake while laughing and joking with her friends. "Happiest Birthday Khushi," said the Snapchat caption.
Eleven of the dead were women, mostly in their 20s and early 30s. Most of the bodies were found piled up near a women's washroom, NDTV cited witnesses as saying.
Police and doctors said the deaths were due to suffocation.
Many could not find emergency exits. Firefighters found that there were no extinguishers, and there were illegal structures that exacerbated the fire. A false ceiling had collapsed in the building, trapping people inside, according to local media.
Police said they were investigating the cause of the fire, and had filed a preliminary case against the restaurant's owners.
One woman, who said she was in the building at the time, told of the desperate scenes as people tried to escape. "There was a stampede and someone pushed me," Ms Sulbha Arora said on Twitter. "People were running over me even as the ceiling above me was collapsing in flames. Still don't know how I got out alive. Some powers were definitely protecting me."
Among the victims were brothers Dhairya and Vishwa Lalani, both in their 20s, who had gone to the restaurant for dinner. They were buried yesterday. Their cousin Viral Chheda said the two men were seated near the exit and managed to escape, but went back in after realising their aunt was missing. She was also among the victims.
"We are utterly devastated," Mr Chheda told Agence France-Presse. "They tried to save lives and gave up their own."
The Kamala Mills compound also houses hotels and media organisations. The Times Network, which runs several national news channels, said its operations had been hit, although all its employees were evacuated safely.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was "anguished by the fire in Mumbai". He said: "My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of grief. I pray that those injured recover quickly."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS