At least 64 children have died over six days at a government hospital in northern India that suffered oxygen shortages, officials said yesterday.
Authorities have launched an inquiry into the causes of the oxygen disruption but denied reports that it had caused the deaths at the Baba Raghav Das Hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh state.
Indian media said 30 children died on Thursday and Friday because of the lack of oxygen on wards. Suppliers' bills had allegedly not been paid.
Twenty-three children died on Thursday, when, according to a statement shared by the office of state chief minister, "the pressure of the liquid oxygen supply became low and 52 reserve oxygen cylinders were pressed into service".
The Hindustan Times newspaper described chaotic scenes at the hospital as oxygen supply was disrupted.
"Even as 90 jumbo oxygen cylinders were pressed into service to maintain the supply on Friday, the hospital ran out of oxygen around 1.00am," it said.
"All hell broke loose," the report added.
"What followed was complete chaos as panic-stricken relatives of patients ran for help, and with the support of hospital staff tried to maintain supply of oxygen... using artificial manual breathing bags (AMBB).
"However several patients started collapsing due to inadequate supply," it added.
India's Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a campaigner for children's rights, described the deaths as "a massacre" on Twitter.
"Thirty kids died in hospital without oxygen. This is not a tragedy. It's a massacre. Is this what 70 years of freedom means for our children?" he said.
The state's health minister suspended the hospital's top official, holding him accountable for the oxygen supply until the completion of a formal investigation.