At least 119 dead as exit locked while fire races through poultry factory in China
A BLAZE at a locked poultry slaughterhouse in northeast China killed at least 119 people today with several still missing.
The news has triggered outrage in a country with a grim record on fire safety.
The fire broke out just after dawn near Dehui in Jilin province. The provincial government said it sent more than 500 firefighters and more than 270 doctors and nurses to the scene, evacuating 3,000 people living nearby as a precaution.
More than 300 workers were in the plant at the time, with employees reporting hearing a sudden bang and then seeing dark smoke, Xinhua state news agency said.
"About 100 workers have managed to escape from the plant whose gate was locked when the fire occurred," Xinhua said.
"The complicated interior structure of the prefabricated house in which the fire broke out and the narrow exits have added difficulties to the rescue work."
The exact number of people unaccounted for was unclear, as was the cause of the fire, Xinhua said. The Jilin government said 54 people were injured and had been rushed to hospital.
People took to social media sites to express their anger.
"Was this place never regularly inspected by fire safety authorities?" wrote one user on China's popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.
"Senior officials need to be sacked because of this," wrote another.
Victims' relatives gathered outside the building to "demand the government investigate and announce the cause of the accident as soon as possible", Xinhua said.
Hong Kong's Phoenix Television cited family members as saying that the doors were always kept locked during working hours during which workers were forbidden to leave and that the slaughterhouse never carried out fire drills.
China's record is poor. Fire exits in factories are often locked or blocked and regulations can be easily skirted by bribing corrupt officials.
Pictures carried by state media showed smoke rising from a long, low-rise building, whose roof had been almost totally burned away, with fire engines and other rescue vehicles parked in front.
Jilin is a largely agricultural province and an important grower of corn and soy beans.
The slaughterhouse is owned by a small local feed and poultry producer called Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company, according to the government.
A fire at a nightclub in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, killed 44 people in 2008. A senior policeman was jailed for taking bribes to allow the unlicensed venue to remain open.
One of modern China's worst fire disasters occurred in late 2000, when fire engulfed building workers at a discotheque in a mall in the central city of Luoyang, killing 309.
The vast majority of deadly industrial accidents in China happen in the huge coal mining industry, in which more than 1,300 people died last year from explosions, mine cave-ins and floods.