Dozens die in China factory fire

A policeman walks by as thick, black smoke rises at a factory.
A policeman walks by as thick, black smoke rises at a factory.

BEIJING — A fire at a poultry processing plant in China has killed at least 119 people, officials say.

The fire broke out at a slaughterhouse in Dehui in Jilin province early today.

Accounts speak of explosions prior to the fire, which caused panic and a crush of workers trying to escape. Some exits were said to be locked.

The fire is now said to have been mostly put out and bodies are being recovered.

Sources including the provincial fire department suggest there may have been an ammonia leak which either caused the fire or made fighting the blaze more hazardous.

Other reports speak of an electrical fault.

An injured woman lies on a bed at a hospital in Changchun, after fire broke out at a poultry slaughterhouse in Dehui, Jilin province, on Monday Dozens of injured have been sent to hospital

It is China’s deadliest fire since 2000, when 309 people died in a blaze in a dance hall in Luoyang, in Henan province. A labour activist told the BBC it was the worst factory fire in living memory.

About 100 workers had managed to escape from the Baoyuan plant, Xinhua said, adding that the “complicated interior structure” of the building and narrow exits had made rescue work more difficult.

It said the plant’s front gate was locked when the blaze began.

Firefighters have still not completed the job of recovering bodies from the building, meaning the death toll may rise yet further, say correspondents.

Dozens of injured have been sent to hospital, but the severity of their injuries remains unclear.

Pictures from the scene showed the roof mostly burned away to reveal blackened, twisted girders.

The provincial government said it sent more than 500 firefighters and at least 270 doctors and nurses to the scene, evacuating an area nearby that is home to 3,000 people as a precaution, reported Reuters news agency.

Workers interviewed by state broadcaster CCTV said the fire broke out at about 6 p.m. during a shift change and may have started in a locker room.

Those who managed to escape from the factory describe panic and chaos as the lights went out, the building filled with smoke, and they found exits blocked or locked.

Guo Yan told Xinhua the emergency exit for her workstation was blocked and that she was knocked to the ground in a crush of workers trying to escape through a side door.

“I could only crawl desperately forward,” said Guo, 39. “I worked alongside an old lady and a young girl, but I don’t know if they survived or not.”

Another unnamed survivor said: “I escaped by climbing out of a window. There was a huge cloud of black smoke coming down the corridor. It was burning hot. It engulfed me. As soon as I was outside I collapsed unconscious.”

Family members were quoted as saying the factory doors were always kept locked during working hours. (BBC)

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