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India

Fire at illegal market in India kills at least 19

A fire at an illegal market in India has killed at least 19 workers. The six-story building housed dozens of unlicensed shops selling various plastic products.

Thirty-eight workers were rescued from the blaze Wednesday in Kolkata. Most of the 19 who died were migrants from the eastern state of Bihar who were sleeping in the building when it caught fire at around 4:00 a.m. (2230 GMT).

West Bengal fire minister Javed Khan said the blaze was likely caused by a short circuit, adding that another 10 people were hospitalized in critical condition and the death toll was expected to rise.

Khan said the scene of the fire was "an illegal, unauthorized market" and confirmed one woman was among the dead.

"The market had no fire extinguisher," Khan said. "The fire spread before the people sleeping there could understand anything."

Acrid smoke

The unlicensed shops in the market sold plastics, papers and foam products, which created acrid black smoke that hampered rescue efforts and led to the high number of deaths. Local residents said the market had been operating for nearly 40 year and that there was only one entrance to the building.

City mayor Sovan Chatterjee criticized "illegal construction" and unlicensed shops, while local legislator Sikha Mitra said she had complained before about the building to city officials.

"I sent letters to the city mayor and the fire services minister highlighting the dangers of the market over the past two years," said Mitra. "My letters went unanswered."

The chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, visited the scene of the blaze and ordered firefighters and the city administration to file a report on its cause and take steps to prevent such disasters from happening again.

In December 2011, at least 93 people died in a fire at a hospital in Kolkata. A March 2010 blaze killed 43 on one of Kolkata's most exclusive streets.

dr/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa)