Fire kills 37 at drug rehab clinic in Kazakhstan
Building had been cited for violations
TALDYKORGAN, Kazakhstan - Fire roared through a drug treatment center in Kazakhstan with a history of safety violations yesterday, killing 37 people as patients tried to escape through barred windows, officials said.
The blaze broke out around 5:30 a.m. and quickly spread through the single-story Soviet-era building. The cause of the blaze has not been determined.
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.
The treatment center is about 120 miles north of Almaty, the country’s largest city. Locked doors on wards and bars on the windows blocked some escape routes, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko said.
He said that inspectors had found a number of violations in the 7,000-square-foot building during a visit in May and that the building had no alarm system. Some 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 has demanded the creation of a commission to investigate the blaze, 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 nearly 10,000 fires in Kazakhstan in the first eight months of 2009, according to government statistics.