37 killed in fire at Kazakh drug rehab clinic

Fire roared through a drug treatment center in Kazakhstan with a history of safety violations, killing 37 people Sunday as patients tried to escape through barred windows, officials said.

The blaze broke out around 5:30 a.m. (2330 GMT, 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday) and quickly spread through the single-story Soviet-era building. About 40 people were evacuated from the building, emergency officials said.

"I heard them screaming for 20 minutes. They were screaming 'Save us, save us," said a woman who lives across the street, who gave her name only as Fatima.

The cause of the fire about 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Almaty, the country's largest city, was not immediately known. Locked doors on wards and bars on the windows blocked some potential escape routes, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko said.

He said inspectors had found a number of violations in the 7,000-square-foot (650-square-meter) building during a visit in May and that the building had no alarm system. Some of the violations had been fixed, but work on installing an alarm system hadn't begun, he said.

At the city morgue, a sister of one of the victims berated police.

"They came and took him away because he was drinking too much. They said they were taking him away for six months to cure him of alcoholism but now he's dead," she wailed.

Prime Minister Karim Masimov ordered the creation of a commission to investigate the incident, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

Violations of safety regulations are common in much of the former Soviet Union and fatal fires are frequent. A 2006 fire at a drug treatment facility in Moscow killed 45 women.

There have been almost 10,000 fires in Kazakhstan in the first eight months of 2009, according to government statistics.

source AFP

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