SHILLONG, Nov 17 - A 119-year-old church was gutted and two elderly persons were killed in a devastating fire here in the wee hours today.
The �Church of God�, one of the oldest churches in the State, is located at Qualapatty.
According to witnesses, the flames were noticed at about 3.30 am.
The fire and emergency services was informed and fire tenders rushed to douse the fire. According to officials, more than 80 men from the fire and emergency services with 12 to 13 fire tenders tried relentlessly to control the fire for several hours.
However, due to the narrow lane leading to the church only a small fire tender could move into the church compound while the remaining fire tenders supplied water to it.
But despite the efforts the wooden structure of the church was completely gutted.
An elderly couple who lived in a house close to the church died. It is suspected that they died of suffocation.
Superintendent of Police of East Khasi Hills district C Lyngwa said two persons died and preliminary assessment indicates that the fire broke out from the ground floor of the church where construction materials were kept.
�There was construction work going on, like replacing the wooden planks and rewiring of electricity lines inside the church. There was lot of construction materials stored on the ground floor,� Lyngwa said.
The SP said the entire church premise is secured with high walls and there was no one inside, except the watchman when fire broke out. However, a thorough investigation is on to ascertain what caused the fire.
She further informed that some houses adjoining the church were partially burnt.
Senior police and civil officials will be holding an emergency meeting on Monday to take forward the investigation.
The Church of God is one of the oldest churches in the State and Rev JJM Nichols Roy was one of the founding members of the church.
Rev Nicholos Roy was one of the architects of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma in a tweet said: �Meghalaya woke up to the tragic news of the Church of God, Qualapatty being gutted in fire that also claimed lives this morning. The indigenous church is one of the oldest in the State. My prayers for the deceased and the Church of God family.�
An IANS report adds: Superintendent of Police (in-charge), Fire and Emergency Services, Jubi G. Momin said, �We are yet to ascertain the cause of the fire. Investigation is on and we are looking at all aspects.�
�There is a possibility that it (fire) could be due to an electrical short circuit since some repairing works, including wiring, were going on inside the church,� Momin added.
Local residents said they made all efforts to put out the fire to save the Church.
Home Minister James Sangma, Director General of Police R Chandranathan and senior government officials visited the site to take stock of the situation.
A senior pastor of the church, Rev OL Snaitang vowed to �rebuild the church�.