Mumbai: Sixteen people were injured as a major fire raged in the Maharashtra Mantralaya or secretariat here Thursday, with officials saying that everyone had been rescued from the building.
Maharashtra Chief Secretary J.K. Banthia said the dozens who had been trapped in the seven-floor building had been taken out. “There are no more people inside,” he told the media.
But the press conference also attended by some ministers turned stormy after journalists and a section of secretariat employees demanded to know how such an inferno could spread so fast in a high security complex.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan, whose office was gutted, looked sombre as he entered the complex with the building still on fire in the evening. He avoided journalists.
Officials said 16 people had suffered varying injuries, with six officials warded in hospitals. “I climbed down a water pipe to escape the flames,” said a breathless man who said that others made similar attempts to escape by clutching to thick electricity cables and drainage pipes.
There were frightening scenes as employees, including women, in the higher floors frantically tried to get out. Many crowded balconies or perched on window sills and on ledges outside the windows. All of them were taken down by the Mumbai Fire Service using lift ladders.
But more than four hours after the fire first broke out on the floor four at 2.15 p.m., two dozen fire tenders continued to fight the flames. Thick dark clouds of smoke billowed from the windows, darkening the Mumbai sky. Authorities said a strong breeze from the sea helped the fire to spread to higher floors and to other sections of the vast building. Officials admitted a sea of official documents had been destroyed.
Earlier, a man who escaped claimed that some 50 people were trapped in the building, spreading panic. Rescue workers appealed to those trapped to get to the roof for rescue by navy helicopters. Several Marine Commandos joined the rescue operations.
Throughout the fire, more and more fire engines with their sirens wailing raced to the burning Mantralaya from other parts of the city. The landmark building, in the heart of South Mumbai, employs some 1,500 men and women. Every day it gets an equal number of visitors.