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Scores die in fire at China poultry plant

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

Scores die in fire at China poultry plant

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HONG KONG — Explosions and fire tore through parts of a poultry plant in northeast China today, killing at least 119 people, in one of the country’s worst factory accidents in recent years.
Chinese news reports attributed many of the deaths at the factory, the Baoyangfeng Poultry Plant, to blocked or inadequate exits that had hindered workers from escaping. The plant began operations four years ago and was considered a major domestic supplier.
Survivors described panic inside the burning plant, as employees unfamiliar with any fire escapes trampled and jostled each other through smoke and flames to reach exits that turned out to be locked.
“Inside and outside the workshop was glowing red, and the lighting and escape indicators were all out,” one survivor, Wang Xiaoyun, told the China News Service.
The disaster came at a time of growing international concern over factory safety in Asia, punctuated by horrific accidents that have taken hundreds of lives. The worst was a collapse of a garment factory complex in Bangladesh on April 24 that killed more than 1,120.
Residents near the poultry factory in Jilin province heard blasts at about 6 a.m. Parts of the plant were engulfed in flames but it was unclear whether the fire broke out before or after the explosions, Chinese television reported.
By late in the day, Xinhua, the official news agency, said “people responsible” had been arrested over the disaster but did not identify them. The precise cause of the fire and explosions also remained unclear.
The police evacuated residents near the plant, fearing more explosions from gas stored there, the China News Service reported. More than 50 people were taken to the hospital, mostly for breathing difficulties from inhaling toxic gases, reports said.
Xinhua quoted an employee of the plant, Guo Yan, as saying she heard a boom and then people shouting that there was a fire. One fire exit was blocked and she had to escape through another exit, she told Xinhua.
“People were all rushing, pressing and crushing each other,” said Guo. “I fell over and had to crawl forward using all my might.”
China’s rapid economic expansion has brought with it factories and mines troubled by work hazards, and frequent industrial accidents have drawn criticism that officials put economic growth before safety.