Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

China Poultry Plant Fire Kills at Least 119 Workers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

China Poultry Plant Fire Kills at Least 119 Workers

Article excerpt

BEIJING -- There was a loud bang, survivors said. Then the lights went out, and fire quickly engulfed a poultry plant in northeastern China, killing at least 119 workers who were trapped inside behind locked doors.

The fire Monday, perhaps the deadliest ever in China's poultry industry, erupted just past 6 a.m. in Jilin Province's Mishazi township. Authorities said the explosion was caused by leakage in tanks of ammonia, used in the poultry industry as a coolant.

At least 54 people were hurt in the blast and subsequent blaze.

As flames spread through the factory, panicked workers were unable to escape, the survivors told Chinese state media, because most of the exits were locked or blocked, forcing them to stampede toward a narrow side door.

"I knew the fire door was blocked, so I went back toward another part of the factory. Everybody was flooding in the same direction in a stampede. I was lucky to crawl out alive," said Guo Yan, a 39- year-old woman who was interviewed by Chinese state media in a hospital in Changchun.

Why there were not more exits is unclear. Whether processing food or making smartphones, Chinese workers often endure conditions more akin to military barracks than factories, with restrictions on their freedom of movement. Ms. Guo told the Chinese news service that workers, who made about $325 per month, were "strictly controlled."

The fire was one in a string of international disasters that have spotlighted poor industrial safety, including the collapse of a garment factory building in Bangladesh in April, a calamity that claimed 1,127 lives. Employees there had expressed fear that the building was unsafe but were ordered to stay inside and work.

Deadly industrial accidents have accompanied China's rapid industrial growth in recent decades, despite government efforts to improve safety standards. Monday's factory fire was one of the worst of its kind in China in living memory, eclipsing the toll from a 1993 blaze at a toy factory in the southern city of Shenzhen that killed 87 workers, most of them young women, according to the Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labor Bulletin. …

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