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September 14, 2009

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37 perish as blaze hits drug-treatment center

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

The blaze broke out about 5:30am local time and quickly spread through the 650-square-meter single-story, Soviet-era building.

About 40 people were evacuated from the building, Kazakhstan's Emergency Situations Ministry 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 200 kilometers north of the capital of Almaty was not immediately known.

Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko said that locked doors on wards and bars on the windows blocked some potential escape routes.

He said inspectors had found a number of violations in the 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 yet begun, he said.

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

Violations of safety regulations are common in some parts of the country and fatal fires are frequent.

According to Emergency Situations Ministry statistics, there have been almost 10,000 fires in Kazakhstan in the first eight months of 2009.

A 2006 fire at a drug-treatment facility in Moscow killed 45 women.


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