India airlifts 45 bodies of workers killed in Kuwait fire - GulfToday

India airlifts 45 bodies of workers killed in Kuwait fire

Pinarayi Vijayan pays homage to the victims of Kuwait fire at Kochi Airport.

Ashraf Padanna, Correspondent

An Indian Air Force flight carrying the bodies of 45 workers who were killed in a fire in Kuwait landed at Kochi airport on Friday.

They included 23 from Kerala, seven from Tamil Nadu, three each from Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, two from Odisha, and one each from Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Jharkhand, Punjab and Haryana.

The bodies of those from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka were taken to their homes in ambulances immediately after their arrival with the police escort.

After the formalities, others, including a Keralite settled in Mumbai, were flown to Delhi on the same flight.

A Non-Resident Keralite Affairs Department official said 25 workers from Kerala are undergoing treatment in hospitals in Kuwait. Seven are critical, and two are unidentified.

Junior foreign minister Kirti Vardhan Singh, who accompanied the bodies on the flight, said the Indian embassy in Kuwait was constantly monitoring all the injured people.

He said he and the embassy officials visited the workers admitted to five hospitals, and most of them will be discharged in two or three days.

Around 32 to 35 patients of Indian origin were being treated there, and they "spoke to them individually” and inquired about their health with hospital directors.

"The hospital authorities are taking exceptionally good care of them. We met the interior minister of Kuwait, and he assured (us) that this kind of incident would never happen again,” he told reporters.

"They are very sensitive about it, concerned about it. The Kuwaiti authorities are very sad about the incident, and they have assured us that they will take all steps so that these kinds of unfortunate incidents are not repeated.”

The fire broke out at 4 am Wednesday at a residential building in Mangaf city where more than 200 workers lived while they were sleeping.

"Some of them were away working on night duty,” Iqbal Mavilaadam of Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre told the Gulf Today on the phone after visiting the injured.

"Many got suffocated to death, not being able to withstand heavy smoke inside. Huge clouds of black smoke were seen billowing out from the seven-storey building.”

He said the workers hospitalised included those who jumped out of the window to escape suffocation, and he could not see many burn victims in the hospital.

Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Fahad Yusuf al-Sabah said violations of building standards had led to the tragedy and accused property owners of greed.

Reports said one more Indian died overnight, taking the total fatalities to 50, including three Filipinos and one unidentified worker.

The Kuwaiti authorities have detained a citizen and two expatriates on charges of manslaughter and wrongful injury as a result of negligence in security and safety.

They also confirmed that the fire was caused by an electric short circuit in the building guard's room on the ground floor and spread to other places.

They have also begun a crackdown on illegal structures housing expatriate workers in poor living conditions, which human rights groups have regularly raised.

When the fire broke out, 179 workers were inside the building. Of them, 175 were Indians, 11 were Filipinos, and the rest were from Thailand, Pakistan, and Egypt.

"The fire in Kuwait is one of the biggest tragedies to affect our community,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who received the bodies at the airport, said.

"This is a huge tragedy for our country. Kerala's migrant workers are the lifeblood of our state. Precautions were necessary to prevent such a disaster happening again.”

He hoped Kuwaiti authorities will take care to prevent such a tragedy from happening again and provide adequate compensation to the families of the victims.

Following the tragedy, the state government cancelled Thursday's inaugural ceremony of Loka Kerala Sabha, a conclave of expatriates.

"The Loka Kerala Sabha meeting will be held on June 14 and 15 as scheduled. However, there will be no celebrations,” an official statement said.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan declined the invitation to the LKS, saying he was not ready to attend the programme being organised by the "people who promote violence.”

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