It was the locals of the adjacent Panchanantala slum who first spotted the fire around 2.45 am on Friday morning.
Not sure what was happening and fearing for their own lives, they first evacuated their own shanties. “We could see patients screaming. One of them, an old woman jumped from the second floor and died. It was then that we ran to rescue them,” said Shailen Das, 25, a local slumdweller.
But good intentions notwithstanding, the locals found themselves not being allowed entry into the AMRI Hospital building by staff who claimed it was a minor fire and said they could handle it themselves.
“But hearing the cries of the patients we could not stop ourselves. We forced our way through and moved up the stairs,” said Suman Deb, 34.
Soon armed with makeshift bamboo ladders, bed sheets and ropes made of sarees the locals had scaled up the rescue efforts.
“We got hold of the patients one by one and brought them down using the stairs,” said Subol Halder, 37.
“Not all of the patients whom we brought down were alive. But there was no time to see who was dead and who was not. We brought down whoever we could find within our reach,” Halder added.