International desk, May 24: At least 18 students were killed after a massive fire broke out at a coaching centre in Gujarat’s Surat in India on Friday afternoon. Videos posted by witnesses on social media showed several students jumping out of windows on the top floor of the four-storey building to escape the blaze.Most of the students are said to be between the ages of 14 and 17. Disturbing visuals showed people on the pavement asking the students to jump off the burning building, hoping to catch them. “Some of these students are critical but the crowd managed to save their lives,” Darshana Jardosh, the parliamentarian from Surat, told NDTV.
The fire, which broke out at around 3:30 pm, engulfed the top two floors of the commercial building called Takshashila Arcade in the Sarthana area of Surat, officials said. Huge plumes of smoke covered the area. Local residents were seen helping in the rescue operation.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire. The owners of the building are on the run, police officials said.
A fire official said 19 fire engines were sent in to control the fire. “Students on fourth and third floor jumped off to the ground to save themselves from fire and smoke. Many have been rescued and sent to hospital. The operation to douse the fire is on,” the fire official told news agency PTI.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the incident.
“Extremely anguished by the fire tragedy in Surat. My thoughts are with bereaved families. May the injured recover quickly. Have asked the Gujarat Government and local authorities to provide all possible assistance to those affected,” Modi said.
An investigation has been ordered into the incident and the state government has promised to give Rs. 4 lakh to each of the families of those killed.
Fire safety in India is often neglected leading to devastating tragedies with alarming frequency. More than 17,000 people died in fires in 2015 alone, according to government data, the last year for which figures are available, one of the largest causes of accidental death in the country.