Shillong: A 95-year-old Church was reduced to ashes in a devastating fire here in Meghalaya on Sunday.
A couple residing next to the devastated Church at Qualapatty area died due to "suffocation", a police official said.
Built in 1924, the fire broke out in the Church at about 3.30 a.m. and left the wooden structured place of worship totally gutted. Several houses adjacent to the Church were damaged due the impact of blazing fire.
"We are yet to ascertain the cause of the fire. Investigation is on and we are looking at all aspects," Superintendent of Police in-charge, Fire and Emergency Services, Jubi G. Momin, told IANS.
"There is a possibility that it (fire) could be due to short circuit since some repairing works including wiring were going on inside the Church," Momin added.
Local residents said they made all efforts to put out the fire to save the Church.
"The firefighters battled all out to control the fire as it was an old structure, compounded with the fact that fire tenders couldn't reach the spot on time as the road leading to it is narrow," a local resident said.
Momin admitted that it was difficult for the fire tenders to negotiate the narrow road. "One of the fire tenders got inside the Church compound with much difficulty and the rest of fire tenders relayed continuous supply of water to the fire tender station at the Church premises," she said.
Home Minister James Sangma, Director General of Police R. Chandranathan and senior government officials visited the site to take stock of the situation.
A senior pastor of the Church, Rev. O.L. Snaitang vowed to "rebuild the Church", recollecting its history.
Claudia Lyngwa, the district police chief of East Khasi Hills said the cause of death of the people - Timiryn Basaiawmoit and Reliable Laloo - can only be established after receiving a post-mortem report.
"We cannot comment anything on the cause of death since we are yet to receive the post mortem report," Lyngwa told IANS.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma took to Twitter and shared pictures of the blazing Church.
"#Meghalaya woke up to the tragic news of the Church of God, Qualapatty being gutted in fire that also claimed lives this morning. The indigenous church is one of the oldest in the State. My prayers for the deceased and the Church of God family, Sangma tweeted.