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Fire kills at least 21 in Polish shelter

A FIRE tore through a three-story building housing homeless families in northwestern Poland yesterday, killing at least 21 people and injuring 20 more, including a baby.

"I couldn't breathe, so I opened the window and looked out, and the door was on fire because it was essentially made of paper," a survivor told reporters.

"I put my pants on and boots, and a friend gave me a jacket, and there wasn't any more time because it was burning like a torch. Some people jumped into the trees," the middle-aged man said.

The blaze broke out at around 1am in a shelter for people waiting for social housing in Kamien Pomorski, 600 kilometers northwest of the Polish capital, Warsaw.

A firefighters spokesman said the bodies of 21 victims had been found.

"It is going to be hard to identify many of them quickly because they are so badly burned," he said.

By the time firefighters arrived, the stone and metal building was engulfed in flames.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.

There were 77 people registered as residents at the time of the blaze. Not all had been accounted for, and the death toll could rise, the spokesman said.

The injured, many of whom suffered broken bones after jumping from windows on the upper floors, were taken to local hospitals. Two people were being treated for burns, including an 8-month-old baby.

"I'm in shock. The most important thing is that we're alive and that the kids are alive," a woman lying in a hospital bed with burns visible on her face told reporters.

"I'm just worried what happens now. We lost everything. We have nothing. I hope there is somebody who will help not only us, but everyone who has suffered from this because this is truly a tragedy."

Prime Minister Donald Tusk flew to the scene yesterday to inspect the damage, and promised aid for survivors.

"The help will be full and will ensure the housing needs of those who survived this disaster," Tusk said.

President Lech Kaczynski has declared three days of national mourning.


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