A fire ripped through a Moscow dormitory crowded with newly arrived foreign students early yesterday, killing at least 32 people and injuring 127 others.
The fire engulfed most of a five-story dormitory belonging to the Patrice Lumumba Friendship of Peoples University, Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said. Many foreigners study at the university, mostly from Asia and Africa, but Beltsov did not know the nationalities of the victims.
Thirty-two people were killed, said Pavel Klimovsky, a Moscow police spokesman. He said 28 bodies were recovered inside the building, three were found outside and one person died in an ambulance. Fifty of the injured were in serious condition, NTV television reported.
Citing a foreign students' union, the Interfax news agency said the dead and injured included citizens of China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and several African countries. Klimovsky said that in addition to those nationalities, the building housed citizens of Ecuador, Ethiopia, Tahiti, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Angola, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Kazakhstan, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Peru and Malaysia.
Moscow fire safety department spokesman Yevgeny Babilyov said 270 students lived in the dormitory. Rossiya state television said that the building was a "quarantine" dormitory for students who had only recently arrived in the country, and that they had not yet begun their studies.
Beltsov said the injuries included burns and smoke inhalation. Interfax said some of the dormitory's residents suffered broken limbs and head and neck injuries when they jumped from windows to escape the smoke and flames.
Flames roared through several rooms on the second, third and fourth floors of the building, gutting most of the dormitory above the ground floor, and smoke poured from windows as a wet snow fell in the pre-dawn darkness. Yesterday morning, the building's gray walls were streaked with dark black soot, and nearby trees were caked with ice that had formed from water used to extinguish the blaze.
Rossiya TV said authorities believe the fire started in a second-story room where three Nigerian girls lived, and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said initial information suggested the cause may have been a short-circuit in that room, and that exits were blocked by piles of possessions. Echo of Moscow radio said authorities were investigating many possibilities, including arson.
The fire was extinguished at about 5:30am, about three hours after the alarm sounded, authorities said.
The university, named after a Congolese anti-colonial leader and prime minister who was assassinated, was founded by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1960. Once a showcase where students from Third World nations received subsidized education with a strict Marxist curriculum, it declined as the Soviet Union collapsed and its buildings became run-down.