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Vijayawada fire: Among victims, recovered pastor who stayed back to be with wife

Director of State Disaster Response and Fire Services K Jayaram Naik said, “The fire alarm did not go off. I don’t think the hotel had any safety measures. Action will be taken against the owners and management.”

Police officials outside the Swarna Palace Hotel in Vijayawada on Sunday. (PTI)

Sabbithi Abraham, 47, a pastor at a church in Jaggaiahpeta, tested negative for Covid-19 on Saturday, but decided to stay on at the Swarna Palace Hotel that had been turned into a Covid facility. Abraham was sharing room number 201-1 with his wife Raja Kumari,45, and decided to stay back till her test result came in.

The couple were among the 10 people killed in a fire at the hotel-turned-Covid facility on Sunday.

Abraham and his wife were from Jaggaiahpeta, 80 km from Vijayawada. They tested positive for Covid-19 a fortnight back and approached Ramesh Hospital, which had leased the hotel to lodge Covid-19 patients. “Abraham had recovered and after his result came negative on Saturday, he was told that he can go home but he decided to stay back as his wife had not been discharged,’’ a Revenue Department official said.

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Read| Vijayawada fire: Nearby fire station’s swift response helps save lives

Pastor K John Babu of Bethel Ministries, Jaggaiahpeta, was very close to Pastor Abraham. “They have two young children aged 12 and 14. Abraham was a very kind- hearted man,” he said. Reverend Benjamin of St Thomas CSI Town Church of Jaggaiahpeta said he had known Abraham for many years. “He was a pastor at Bethesda church. He is well-known in Jaggaiahpeta. He tested negative for Covid-19 just a day before. We were expecting him to come and give service on Sunday and go back and pick up his wife but he decided to stay back so that his wife is not alone,” he said.

Duddu Venkata Lakshmi Devi, 48, and her son Pavan Kumar, 20, from Kandukur in Prakasam district, were in room number 208 and 203, respectively. Firemen found their bodies in a corridor. Among the other victims were Majji Gopi from Machilipatnam; Maddali Ramesh from Vijayawada; Potluri Purnachandra Rao, 80, of Kodali; Dokku Siva Brahmaiah, 57, from Machilipatnam, S Babu Rao, 68, of Vijayawada; and Kosaraju Suvarna Latha, 42, said Mandal Revenue Officer P Jaya Sri.

Those who were rescued described the chaos when fire spread and thick smoke filled the rooms. Pavan Sai Kishan, 20, who was rescued from the third floor, said the smoke made breathing very difficult. “We were trapped in our rooms. There was fire on the staircase and I could feel the heat. For about 15-20 minutes, we screamed as our eyes hurt and we struggled to breathe.”

“I broke my room’s window and climbed to a landing from where I screamed for help. Many elderly patients just sat on beds and prayed, fearing the worst.”

Health Minister A Krishna Srinivas said that most of the patients rescued were elderly. “They are all very shaken by the experience but are fine. Ramesh Hospital has admitted them,’’ he said.

Director of State Disaster Response and Fire Services K Jayaram Naik said, “The fire alarm did not go off. I don’t think the hotel had any safety measures. Action will be taken against the owners and management.”

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