• Wednesday, July 24, 2024


Kuwait makes arrests over deadly fire that killed 50, mostly Indians

Interior minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef pledged to address ‘labour overcrowding and neglect’ on Wednesday and threatened to close any buildings that violate safety rules. (Photo: Reuters)

By: Vivek Mishra

Kuwaiti authorities announced on Thursday that three people had been detained for suspected manslaughter following a building fire that killed 50 foreign workers, mostly Indians, and left their families and friends in mourning.

Officials in Manila reported that three Filipinos were also among the dead. The fire sent black smoke through the six-storey building south of Kuwait City and injured dozens more.

Most of Kuwait’s population of over four million comprises foreigners, many from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries.

The fire broke out around dawn on Wednesday at the base of the block housing nearly 200 workers in the Mangaf area, which is densely populated with migrant labourers.

“One of the injured died overnight,” Kuwaiti foreign minister Abdullah Al-Yahya told reporters, after 49 people were declared dead on Wednesday. “The majority of the dead are Indians,” he added. “There are other nationalities, but I don’t remember exactly.”

Many of the victims suffocated from smoke inhalation after being trapped in the building by the fire, according to a source in the fire department.

One Kuwaiti and two foreign residents have been detained on suspicion of manslaughter due to negligence of security procedures and fire regulations, the public prosecution service said.

The General Fire Force reported that the blaze was started by an electrical fault in the guard’s room on the ground floor.

Interior minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef pledged to address “labour overcrowding and neglect” on Wednesday and threatened to close any buildings that violate safety rules.

Friends and relatives of the victims, many of whom are Asians working in the Gulf to support their families, were in shock at the tragedy.

Shameer Umarudheen’s “entire village is in mourning”, said Safedu, a relative of the 33-year-old victim from Kollam, in Kerala, India. “He was a lovely man. Always very friendly to everyone around,” Safedu added. “He does not come from a well-off family, so him going to Kuwait was a chance for the family to do better.”

Reji Varghese said his close friend Lukose VO, 49, was on the sixth floor of the block. His death was reported by another worker who escaped by jumping from the second floor, breaking his leg. “I’m still not able to come to terms with it. We didn’t believe the news when we heard about it,” said Varghese. “I spoke to him just last week… This news is a shock.”

On Wednesday, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi promised help for those affected by the “gruesome fire tragedy”. India’s junior foreign minister Kirti Vardhan Singh has flown in to help survivors and organise the repatriation of remains on an Indian air force plane. “Some of the bodies have been charred beyond recognition, so DNA tests (are) underway to identify the victims,” he told Indian media.

In Manila, the Department of Migrant Workers said three Filipinos had died from smoke inhalation, with two more in critical condition and six escaping unharmed. “We are in touch with the families of all the affected (migrants), including the families of those two in critical condition and the families of the three fatalities,” Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Leo J Cacdac said in a statement.

The blaze is one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which holds about seven percent of the world’s known oil reserves. In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.

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