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Safety blunders at blaze hospital

A private Indian hospital where 90 people died in a massive fire failed to update its safety procedures despite being ordered to do so months ago, officials say.

Most of the victims died in their beds from inhaling noxious black smoke that filled AMRI Hospital's rooms and corridors after the fire broke out before dawn in the basement and medical staff fled the scene.

Authorities had warned hospital administrators in September about the basement, where radiation equipment was stored, but no action was taken to improve safety, said West Bengal state chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who withdrew the hospital's licence.

The AMRI Hospital - recently rated by an Indian magazine as one of the best in Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta - also did not have proper firefighting equipment, according to state disaster management minister Javed Khan.

The hospital denied that any safety measures were broken.

Police have charged six hospital directors with culpable homicide. Authorities were still trying to determine what caused the blaze but said no radiation leak had been detected.

Witnesses say many medical staff abandoned the hospital's 160 or so patients and fled the fire. Firefighters took more than an hour to arrive, and then had trouble bringing fire trucks close to the seven-storey hospital because of the neighbourhood's narrow streets.

Rescue workers on ladders smashed windows to reach patients on the upper floors and most survivors were taken to a nearby hospital, although at least 25 of the most critical patients were still being kept in AMRI Hospital's main wing until they could be relocated.

Safety regulations are routinely ignored at Indian hospitals, with few having fire stairways or holding evacuation drills. Even if fire extinguishers are present, they are commonly several years old and never serviced.

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