Mumbai: A major fire raged in the Maharashtra Mantrayala or secretariat here Thursday, with a man who escaped claiming that some 50 people were trapped in the building.
Scores of people were perched on some of the balconies waiting to be rescued as thick black columns of smoke billowed out of the windows of the sprawling building in the heart of Mumbai.
A few risked their lives and slid down several floors clutching water and drainage pipes.
The fire broke out on the fourth floor of the seven-floor building and quickly spread because of strong winds from the sea.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s office was also on fire.
Rescue workers frantically appealed to those trapped in the Mantralaya to get to the roof for rescue by navy helicopters.
Several Marine Commandos joined the rescue operations, being overseen by the Mumbai Fire Service and Mumbai Police.
More and more fire engines with their sirens wailing continued to rush to the burning Mantralaya from other parts of the city.
“I climbed down a water pipe to escape the flames,” said a breathless man who later said that many others had made similar attempts to escape with the help of thick electricity cables and drainage pipes.
A large number of people were evacuated after the fire broke out. However, many were trapped in some rooms and offices of the higher floors, an official said.
Despite fighting the rising flames for hours, the fire could not be controlled.
The cause of the fire has not been ascertained.
The landmark Mantralaya building is located in the heart of South Mumbai, close to the Mumbai High Court.
It houses some 1,500 employees and every day gets an equal number of visitors.
Hundreds were seen outside the building watching the flames and smoke. Most employees who escaped were from the lower floors.
Also watching the inferno were the chief minister and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.