Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Two workers arrested after deadly fire in hospital

AFP , BEIJING

Two hospital employees have been detained after 39 people were killed and about 182 injured in what is considered China's worst hospital fire in more than half a century, state media said yesterday.

Patients were seen leaping from the windows of the four-story City Central Hospital, the biggest hospital in Liaoyuan City in Jilin Province, as it was engulfed by smoke and flames on Thursday.

The Xinhua news agency said a hospital electrician, surnamed Zhang, and his superior, the head of the hospital's logistics department, have been detained for "violating operations rules."

According to a police investigation, Zhang mishandled a power outage at the hospital on Thursday. Instead of checking for the cause of the blackout, he went to the electrical distribution room and switched the power back on, Xinhua said.

Minutes later, Zhang heard crackling noises coming from the room and returned to find smoke coming from the room. He immediately ran out of the building to cut power from the transformer, but it was too late.

When he came back, the fire had started to spread, Xinhua said.

The head of the hospital was also being investigated by local government departments, according to Xinhua.

The fire began at about 4:30pm and was not put out until 10pm, the news agency said.

Xinhua late on Saturday quoted Health Minister Gao Qiang (高強) as saying the fire was China's worst hospital fire in more than 55 years, when records began.

"The fire is rarely seen and the most disastrous one in the country's medical institutions since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949," said Gao, who was in Liaoyuan to deal with the aftermath.

In a rare move, Liaoyuan's Chinese Communist Party secretary Zhao Zhenqi apologized to residents on Saturday, Xinhua said.

"As a principal leader in the city, I felt deep regret for the fatal hospital fire. I failed to exert myself to the utmost. I apologize to all people in the city for the accident," Zhao was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

He urged the city to learn a lesson from the accident and launch a campaign to check for fire dangers in all buildings.

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