MORE THAN 90 DIE IN TWO CHINA FIRES


2004-02-17
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More than 90 people were killed and dozens injured in two fires that swept through a department store in the northeastern city of Jilin and caused a temple collapse in the eastern province of Zhejiang, RFA�s Mandarin and Cantonese services report.

Investigations are under way to determine the cause of the blaze at the Zongbai Commercial Plaza in Jilin, although reports say that locked emergency exits left people fleeing the flames no choice but to jump from upstairs windows. The Jilin fire killed 53 people and injured 70.

A nurse at the Third People�s Hospital of Jilin said most of the casualties had jumped from upstairs windows. �They were injured jumping from upstairs,� said the nurse, who asked not to be named. �Fifteen of them have been sent to our hospital, and there are more in other hospitals as well.�

An official at the local fire station said investigators believe that a malfunctioning boiler may have caused fire. �We were unable to get in. There was extremely thick smoke after the fire broke out,� he said. �The first floor was for miscellaneous daily-necessity goods and was full of plastic and other flammable products. We just couldn�t get in.�

�At the time, my daughter and two friends, three people in all, were in the building on the third floor when they spotted fire in a stairway,� a man named Wang, who was looking after his unconscious daughter at the Jilin City Central Hospital, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

�They went down the stairway to the second floor but the emergency exit would not open, it was locked, so they had to go back up to the third floor and they jumped out of a window.�

Wang�s daughter broke bones in her legs, feet, and back following the jump, while one of her friends died and the other survived with injuries, he said. �They felt that they would have burned to death if they didn�t jump,� he said. Other victims recounted similar stories about locked doors, he said.

The blaze started at 11:20 a.m. Sunday on the second floor of the mall, where many people were doing weekend shopping, probably in a temporary storehouse near a boiler room, official media reported. The first and second floors of the building were for shopping, the third was a bathhouse, and the fourth a games hall and a disco.

Also on Sunday, disaster struck at a bamboo temple in Zhejiang, killing 40 women and injuring three others. That blaze is thought to have been started by burning sticks of incense. The fire spread rapidly through the makeshift structure, which had been built to replace a brick building torn down by the authorities.

The fire at the bamboo-and-straw temple in Wufeng village, southwest of Shanghai, brought it crashing down on worshippers. Official reports said the women were taking part in �superstitious activities��the Communist Party�s phrase to denote folk religion.

Women used the temple, built several months ago to replace a brick structure torn down by officials, to pray for children who had migrated to cities to work, according to a villager.

�A group of people were doing superstitious activities in the straw house. As they burned incense, it started the fire,�� said the announcer on the China Central Television midday news. The government�s China News Service said the dead were women aged 40-84.

China�s appalling safety record has come under public scrutiny with a string of fatal accidents in recent weeks. Fires, coalmine accidents, and other disasters are frequently blamed on shoddy construction, indifference to safety rules, and other negligence.

President Hu Jintao and other leaders have vowed to make safety for ordinary Chinese a priority. But repeated crackdowns and threats to punish negligent officials appear to be having little effect. The government says the number of people killed in industrial accidents last year rose by nine percent compared with 2002. #####

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