Fire kills 119 at poultry plant in north-east China

BEIJING (AP) - Fire raged through a poultry plant in north-eastern China on Monday, trapping workers inside a cluttered slaughterhouse and killing at least 119 people, reports and officials said.

Several dozen people also were hurt in the blaze in Jilin province's Mishazi township, which appeared to have been sparked by three early morning explosions, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The provincial fire department, on its microblog, attributed the blasts to a leak of ammonia, a gas that is kept pressurised as part of the cooling system in meat processing plants.

State broadcaster CCTV quoted unidentified workers as saying the fire broke out during a change of shifts and may have originated in a locker room at a time when about 350 workers were at the plant, owned by Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co.

It was not clear how many workers had been accounted for and a provincial government media official, who refused to give his name, said he expected the death toll to rise further as more bodies were recovered from the charred building.

The plant's "complicated" interior, narrow exits and a locked front gate made escape difficult, Xinhua quoted survivors as saying.

Some employees raised the alarm shortly after a shift began at 6am, and then the lights went out, boosting the level of panic as workers rushed to find an exit, employee Wang Fengya told Xinhua.

"When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw high flames," Wang, 44, was quoted as saying. Xinhua said she and three other workers were sent to a hospital in the nearby provincial capital of Changchun.

Another worker quoted by Xinhua, 39-year-old Guo Yan, said the emergency exit at her workstation was blocked and she was knocked to the ground in the crush of workers seeking to escape through a side door.

"I could only crawl desperately forward," Guo was quoted as saying. "I worked alongside an old lady and a young girl, but I don't know if they survived or not."

The disaster killed 119 people, and 54 people were being treated in hospitals, the provincial government said on its microblog. Calls to fire and rescue services rang unanswered and hospital administrators said they had no information about the injured.