12/16/2005, 00.00
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China, blaze at hospital leaves 38 dead

Almost 24 people still missing. 222,000 accidental fires occurred across the country from January to November, killing a total of 2,048 people.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A fire that swept through a hospital in northeastern China has left 38 people dead and some 24 others unaccounted for, state source said Friday, as officials launched a probe into the cause of the blaze.

Rescuers found 24 bodies in the smouldering remains of the biggest hospital in Liaoyuan city, Jilin province, while 14 others later died of their injuries, a provincial official was quoted as saying .

The fire broke out at about 4.30pm on Thursday and was extinguished by 10:30 pm when rescue and search operations began. Preliminary investigations revealed that the fire began in a power distribution room. Authorities were pursuing their inquiry.

"I saw people jumping out of the window and many of them got injured. I'm sorry I could not do anything to help," one witness said. One patient, 43-year-old Wang Mingwen, told the state-run agency that he escaped from a third-floor ward by tying his bed quilt to a heating pipe and climbing down from the window, but his wife fell and was seriously injured.

Some 5,000 square meters of hospital space was destroyed in the blaze. City officials refused to reveal how many people had been killed or injured in the blaze. Hospital sources said a total of 245 in-patients were registered at the hospital when the fire broke out and that 183 had been rescued and transferred to other hospitals.

According to Xinhua, China's official news agency, Jilin's top leaders, Communist Party secretary Wang Yunkun and provincial governor Wang Ming had both arrived on the scene late Thursday to oversee recovery operations and a probe into the blaze. Both are under intense political pressure due to a petro-chemical explosion in neighbouring Jilin city last month that resulted in a toxic spill that forced officials to cut water supplies to millions of people for five days. The environmental disaster was covered up for 10 days.

China's ministry of public security said on Thursday that 222,000 accidental fires occurred across the country from January to November, killing a total of 2,048 people and injuring 2,080 others.

The fires caused direct economic losses of 1.23 billion yuan.

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