At least 45 Indians among 50 dead in fire at building housing migrant workers in Kuwait

More than 50 others injured in fire that broke out in six-storey building in coastal city of Mangaf

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar,Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 12 June 2024 10:49
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Kuwait apartment block fire kills 41 and injures dozens more

At least 50 foreign workers, including Indians, were killed in Kuwait after a massive fire tore through a building housing scores of low-income migrants.

More than 50 others were injured in the fire that broke out in the six-storey building in the coastal city of Mangaf in southern Kuwait on Wednesday.

Around 45 Indian nationals, aged between 20 to 50 years, were killed in the blaze, prompting the Indian government to jump into action and set up a helpline for their families.

The blaze erupted from the kitchen of one of the lower floors of the building at around 4.30am when many people were still sleeping. The fire swiftly swept through the upper floors with smoke filling up the entire building.

Authorities in Kuwait have detained the building owner for questioning as they suspect whether “any shortcoming or neglect” played a role, Kuwait’s state news agency reported. The authorities have promised to launch a wider investigation to see if there was any rampant building code violation by the business owners.

Sheikh Fahad Yusuf Al Sabah, Kuwait’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, blamed “the greed of property owners” for the tragedy and said the employers of those killed would be detained.

Kuwait's deputy prime minister and Minister of Defense and acting interior minister, Fahad Yusuf Al-Sabah speaks with police officers in front of a burnt building
Kuwait's deputy prime minister and Minister of Defense and acting interior minister, Fahad Yusuf Al-Sabah speaks with police officers in front of a burnt building (REUTERS)

The teams investigating the cause of the inferno found that a highly inflammable material was used as partitions between the cramped apartments of the building which resulted in the huge black clouds of smoke, head of investigations at Kuwait Fire Department Col Sayed Al-Mousawi said.

He said that many of the people died of suffocation while trying to rush down the stairs and they could not go to the rooftop as the door was locked.

Rescuers arrive at the site of a building that caught fire in Kuwait, Wednesday, 12 June 2024
Rescuers arrive at the site of a building that caught fire in Kuwait, Wednesday, 12 June 2024

The fire was doused within 10 minutes of the arrival of firefighters and a large number of workers were rescued, he said.

An Egyptian worker told reporters from the hospital that he saw many charred bodies as he came out of the building with the help of firefighters. He said it took him two hours to come out of the building that housed many Indians, a few Pakistanis, and Filipinos.

An Indian worker, identified by only one name, Jayashankar, said he woke up to screams in his fourth-floor apartment and found that thick, acrid, black smoke had filled up the corridors, according to the New York Times.

They decided to lock the door and open a window while they waited for help. But two of his roommates who tried to find an exit were found dead, he said.

A Kuwaiti policeman stands in front of a residential building after a fire broke out in Mangaf area, southern Ahmadi governorate, Kuwait, 12 June 2024
A Kuwaiti policeman stands in front of a residential building after a fire broke out in Mangaf area, southern Ahmadi governorate, Kuwait, 12 June 2024 (EPA)

Foreign workers in the oil-rich nation make up about two-thirds of the population of Kuwait. Many workers from South Asian countries who come for the prospect of jobs work in low-income jobs in tough living conditions.

Indian nationals make up 21 per cent of Kuwait’s 4.2 million population and nearly 30 per cent of its workforce.

The Indian foreign ministry called it an “unfortunate and tragic fire-incident” and said they have “extended all possible support” to the victims through its embassy in Kuwait.

Foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar offered his “deepest condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives” and spoke to his Kuwaiti counterpart.

“Apprised of the efforts made by Kuwaiti authorities in that regard. Was assured that the incident would be fully investigated and that responsibility will be fixed,” he said on X.

“Urged the early repatriation of the mortal remains of those who lost their lives. He emphasized that those injured were getting the requisite medical attention.”

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level urgent meeting at his residence on Wednesday and sent minister of state Kirti Vardhan Singh to immediately travel to Kuwait to work towards early repatriation of mortal remains as well as for medical assistance to those injured.

“The fire mishap in Kuwait City is saddening. My thoughts are with all those who have lost their near and dear ones. I pray that the injured recover at the earliest,” he said.

He has announced a compensation of Rs200,000 (£1,872) each to the families of deceased Indian nations.

Three of 11 Filipino workers who lived in the building were brought to hospitals, while the status of five remained unclear and three were safe, the Philippine migrant workers ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

The incident is believed to be one of the worst fire tragedies witnessed in Kuwait. In 2009, at least 57 people died when a woman allegedly seeking revenge set fire to a tent at a wedding party.

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