New Delhi: At least 17 people were killed when a major fire engulfed a five-storey hotel in the heart of the Indian capital before dawn on Tuesday, leaving some survivors in critical condition and others dazed and shaken.
The dead included at least two women and a child who could not escape the leaping flames and the thick smoke in Hotel Arpit Palace in the commercial-cum-residential district of Karol Bagh, officials said.
Three people jumped from the blazing structure before two dozen fire tenders joined the battle against the flames.
Some 35 people were rescued from the hotel after the fire erupted shortly after 4 a.m., Deputy Commissioner of Police Mandeep Randhawa told IANS.
Most victims died of suffocation, G.C. Mishra of Delhi Fire Service said, adding that the toll could up as some of those injured were in critical condition.
The hotel had a basement, a ground floor and four floors. At least 35 rooms were booked by members of an extended family.
Most of the damage was reported between the second and fourth floors. The basement and the ground floor were not majorly affected.
It was not immediately clear in which part of the hotel the fire broke out. Mishra said prima facie the blaze appeared to have been caused by short circuit.
"When the fire tenders reached the spot, flames were leaping out of the building. Many people were still fast asleep," Mishra said.
By noon, the fire had been put out and fire-fighters had searched all the rooms and toilets to ensure no one was left trapped.
Dazed survivors, who escaped only with the clothes they were in, complained that fire-fighting equipment was not readily available in the hotel and that wooden panels helped the flames to spread rapidly.
"There was no proper fire exit plan," one man added.
The hotel was reportedly fully occupied and the guests included some foreigners. Police said they were looking for the hotel owner.
It was the worst fire tragedy in Delhi since 59 people died in an inferno in the Uphaar cinema in south Delhi in 1997 and equalled the 17 dead in a fire in a firecracker factory in Bawana in outer Delhi last year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths.
"Deeply saddened by the loss of lives due to a fire at Karol Bagh. I convey my condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. May the injured recover soon," he tweeted.
The Delhi government ordered a magisterial probe.
Delhi Minister for Home and Urban Development Satyendar Jain said the building norms had been violated and more floors than permitted had been constructed.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said an inquiry will be launched to find out whether the owner had a valid licence to run the hotel and the bar.