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Kuwait fire kills 49 in building housing foreign workers

The fire broke out at dawn on Wednesday
— Kuwait City (AFP)

A fire in Kuwait killed 49 people when it ripped through a building housing nearly 200 foreign workers on Wednesday, the government said.

The blaze, which broke out in the six-storey building south of Kuwait City at around dawn, also left dozens injured, the health ministry said.

Flames engulfed the lower floors as black smoke poured out of the upper-storey windows, unverified images posted on social media showed.

The interior ministry revised the death toll up to 49, from 35 issued earlier, after forensic teams scoured the charred building.

"The number of deaths as a result of the fire in the workers' building... has risen to 49," the ministry said.

The official Kuwait News Agency quoted Health Minister Ahmed al-Awadhi as saying hospitals had received 56 people injured in the fire in the Mangaf area, which is heavily populated with migrant labourers.

The building, whose exterior was blackened with soot, housed 196 workers, according to information given to the interior minister by their employer.

Oil-rich Kuwait has large numbers of foreign workers, many of them from South and Southeast Asia, and mostly working in construction or service industries.

A source in the fire department said the victims suffocated from rising smoke after the fire started at the building's base.

A foreign ministry said the fire claimed "the lives of 49 people residing in the State of Kuwait", amending an earlier statement that said they were all Indian citizens.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had previously called the disaster "saddening" in a post on social media platform X.

"My thoughts are with all those who have lost their near and dear ones," wrote Modi, as the Indian embassy in Kuwait set up an emergency helpline for updates.

- 'Overcrowding and neglect' -

India's Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh was also on his way to coordinate assistance and repatriate the dead, India's foreign ministry spokesman said.

India's Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar posted that he was "deeply shocked by the news" and offered "deepest condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives".

He spokes on the phone with his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdullah al-Yahya who "expressed the condolences of the leadership, government and people of the State of Kuwait", the foreign ministry statement said.

Yahya also "called for a speedy recovery for those injured as a result of this painful disaster" and said Kuwaiti authorities were "harnessing all their capabilities" to assist them, it added.

Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef said the building's owner had been detained for potential negligence, adding any properties violating safety regulations would be closed immediately.

"We will work to address the issue of labour overcrowding and neglect," he said. "We will detain the owner of the property where the fire broke out until legal procedures are completed."

The blaze is one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world's oil reserves.

In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, apparently seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.

Nusra al-Enezi threw petrol on the tent and set it alight as people celebrated inside. She was hanged in 2017 for the crime, whose victims included many women and children.