May 24, 2019 / 12:53 PM / 22 days ago

Fire in commercial centre in India kills at least 17

Firefighters douse a fire that broke out in a four-story commercial building in Surat, in the western state of Gujarat, India, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - At least 17 people were killed when a fire broke out in a four-storey commercial building in the city of Surat in India’s western state of Gujarat on Friday, police said.

Television footage broadcast by private channel NDTV showed people jumping off the top floor of the Takshashila building or trying to escape by climbing down, as thick smoke billowed out.

Most of the dead were students who had been attending class at a tuition centre housed in the building, according to the spokesman for the office of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.

“The fire started near the staircase, so they could not get down,” Joint Commissioner of Police Harikrishna Patel said, adding that all of the dead were aged below 20 years.

The blaze, likely caused due to an electrical short circuit, started between 3.45-4.00 pm local time and spread rapidly, Patel said.

Television footage showed people trying to grab a large banner on the side of the building as they plummeted down.

Rupani has ordered an inquiry into the incident and asked Mukesh Puri, principal secretary of the urban development department, to submit a report within three days, the spokesman for his office said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter he was thinking of the bereaved families.

“Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat,” Modi said. “May the injured recover quickly,” he said, adding he had instructed authorities to help those affected.

Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Devjyot Ghoshal; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani, Editing by William Maclean

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