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Bootleg liquor kills 143 people in eastern India

A woman whose husband died after drinking toxic liquor tries to console her children Thursday at a hospital in Diamond Harbour, near Kolkata, India.

A woman whose husband died after drinking toxic liquor tries to console her children Thursday at a hospital in Diamond Harbour, near Kolkata, India. Photo by The Associated Press.

SANGRAMPUR, India (AP) — Bootleg liquor containing toxic methanol killed 143 people and sickened dozens more who drank the cheap, illicit brew bought at small shops in eastern India, officials said Thursday. Police arrested 10 suspected bootleggers.

Emergency medical teams rushed to the village outside Kolkata, and thousands of relatives, many of them wailing in grief, gathered outside the packed hospital. Inside, dead bodies lay on the floor covered in quilts, while the ill waited on staircases to be treated. Groups of men sat in the halls with saline drips running into their arms.

Abdul Gayen cried inconsolably for his son, Safiulla, a laborer who drank some of the liquor Monday night and then complained of lightheadedness. When Safiulla woke up the next morning, he fell and began frothing at the mouth, Gayen said. He died before his family could get him to the hospital.

“Safiulla was the lone bread earner in our family. I don’t know what will happen to us now,” he said.

Illegal liquor operations flourish in the slums of urban India and among the rural poor who can’t afford the alcohol at state-sanctioned shops. The hooch, often mixed with cheap chemicals to increase potency and profit, causes illness and death sometimes — and occasionally mass carnage.

Many of the victims — day laborers, street hawkers, rickshaw drivers — had gathered along a road near a railway station after work to drink the illicit booze they bought for 10 rupees (20 cents) a half liter, less than a third of the price of legal alcohol, district magistrate Naraya Swarup Nigam said.

They later began vomiting, suffering piercing headaches and frothing at the mouth, he said.

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