Kuwaiti security forces stand outside a building which was ingulfed by fire, in Kuwait City. Image Credit: AFP

KUWAIT CITY: Most of the victims in a deadly blaze that engulfed a block housing expat workers were from India, Kuwait’s foreign minister said on Thursday, raising the death toll to 50.

Three Filipinos were among the dead, Philippines officials said, after the fire sent black smoke billowing through the six-storey building south of Kuwait City.

Around 40 Indians died in the blaze, which also killed at least 9 other people in Mangaf city, while more than 50 were injured, according to India's foreign ministry. Most of the Indian victims came from Kerala.

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Most of Kuwait’s four million-plus population is made up of foreigners, many of them from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries.

Dozens more were injured in the fire in Mangaf, south of Kuwait City, which broke out around dawn on Wednesday at the ground level of the block housing nearly 200 workers.

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“One of the injured died” overnight, Foreign Minister Abdullah Al Yahya told reporters, after 49 people were declared dead on Wednesday.

“The majority of the dead are Indians,” he added. “There are other nationalities but I don’t remember exactly.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country is “doing everything possible to assist those affected by this gruesome fire tragedy”, in a post on X late on Wednesday.

Next of kin will receive payments of 200,000 rupees ($2,400), Modi’s office announced.

India’s junior foreign minister Kirti Vardhan Singh, who has arrived to help survivors and repatriate remains on an Indian air force plane, said DNA testing was needed to identify some victims.

Kuwaiti among 3 arrested

One Kuwaiti and two foreign residents have been detained on suspicion of manslaughter through negligence of security procedures and fire regulations, the public prosecution service said.

The blaze was started by an electrical fault in the guard’s room on the ground floor, the General Fire Force said after an inspection.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al Yousef vowed to address “labour overcrowding and neglect”, and threatened to close any buildings that flout safety rules.

Friends and relatives of the victims, who are among millions of Asians who live and work in the wealthy Gulf to remit money to their families, were in shock at the tragedy.

Shameer Umarudheen’s “entire village is in mourning”, said Safedu, a relative of the 33-year-old victim from Kollam, in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

“He was a lovely man. Always very friendly to everyone around,” Safedu added.

“He does not come from a well-off family, so him going to Kuwait was a chance for the family to do better.”

DNA testing

Reji Varghese said his close friend Lukose VO, 49, was staying on the sixth floor of the block. His death was reported by another worker who leapt from the second floor, breaking his leg, to escape.

“I’m still not able to come to terms with it. We didn’t believe the news when we heard about it,” said Varghese.

“I spoke to him just last week... This news is a shock.”

“Some of the bodies have been charred beyond recognition, so DNA tests (are) underway to identify the victims,” he told Indian media.

In Manila, the Department of Migrant Workers said three Filipinos died from smoke inhalation, with two more in critical condition while six escaped unharmed.

“We are in touch with the families of all the affected (workers), including the families of those two in critical condition and the families of the three fatalities,” Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac said in a statement.

The blaze was one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world’s known 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.