Fire kills 119 at China poultry plant

Several dozen people were hurt in the blaze in Jilin province's Mishazi township

Written by Associated Press | Beijing | Published: June 4, 2013 2:02:37 am

Fire raged through a poultry plant in northeastern China Monday,trapping workers inside a cluttered slaughterhouse and killing at least 119 people,reports and officials said.

Several dozen people were hurt in the blaze in Jilin province’s Mishazi township,which appeared to have been sparked by three early morning explosions,the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The provincial fire department,on its microblog,attributed the blasts to a leak of ammonia,a gas that is kept pressurized as part of the cooling system in meat processing plants.

CCTV quoted unidentified workers as saying the fire broke out during a change of shifts and may have originated in a locker room at a time when about 350 workers were at the plant,owned by Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co.

It wasn’t clear how many workers had been accounted for and a provincial government media official said he expected the death toll to rise further as more bodies were recovered from the charred building.

The plant’s “complicated” interior,narrow exits and a locked front gate made escape difficult,Xinhua quoted survivors as saying.

Some employees raised the alarm shortly after a shift began at 6 am,and then the lights went out,boosting the level of panic as workers rushed to find an exit,employee Wang Fengya told Xinhua.

“When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant,I saw high flames,” Wang,44,was quoted as saying. Xinhua said she and three other workers were sent to a hospital in the nearby provincial capital of Changchun.

Another worker quoted by Xinhua,39-year-old Guo Yan,said the emergency exit at her workstation was blocked and she was knocked to the ground in the crush of workers seeking to escape through a side door. “I could only crawl desperately forward,” Guo was quoted as saying. “I worked alongside an old lady and a young girl,but I don’t know if they survived or not.”

By about noon,the fire had been mostly extinguished by about 500 firefighters and bodies were being recovered from the charred buildings. CCTV footage showed dark smoke billowing up from the prefabricated cement structures topped with corrugated iron roofs.

The fire highlighted the lax safety standards at many Chinese workplaces,despite efforts to compel improvements through regular inspections and fines.

It could also focus renewed scrutiny on China’s biggest pork producer,Shuanghui International – unrelated to the poultry plant – as it aims to buy US food giant Smithfield in what would be China’s biggest takeover of a US company.

Jilin Baoyuanfeng produces 67,000 tonnes of processed chicken per year and employs about 1,200 people. The plant is located outside the city of Dehui,about 800 km northeast of China’s capital,Beijing.

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