At least 22 people have died when a fire broke out at a private hospital in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, according to police, with officials warning the death toll could rise.

More than 40 critically ill patients were trapped in an intensive care unit by the blaze on Monday, which is believed to have been triggered by an electric short circuit in the dialysis ward of the SUM hospital building in Bhubaneswar.

"We can confirm 19 deaths in the incident," Yogesh Khurania, Bhubaneswar police commissioner, told AFP news agency.

"More than 100 patients have been shifted to other hospitals. Many of them are critical and the death toll may rise further," he said.

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Khurania said initial reports suggested that most of the victims had died owing to smoke inhalation, with toxic smoke filling the entire floor of the building and hampering rescue efforts.

Local television stations showed images of firefighters wearing masks smashing glass panes to enter the building as they struggled to save patients from suffocating at the 1,000-bed hospital.

 Local television stations showed images of firefighters smashing glass panes to enter the building [EPA]

Sharat Kumar Sahu, a police officer at the site of the blaze, told AFP that the fire started in the dialysis ward in the four-storey building and quickly spread to the intensive care unit.

Most of the critical patients were on ventilators and died in the blaze, he said.

Sahu added that more than 100 firefighters had battled the fire, which started at around 7:30pm (14:00 GMT), for some five hours until it was brought under control.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter it was a "mind-numbing" tragedy, expressing his grief over the loss of life and promising to help the injured.

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Source: News Agencies