Fire traps workers at poultry plant in northeast China, 55 dead

BEIJING (AP) - A large fire broke out at a poultry farm and processing plant in northeastern China early on Monday, charring much of the facility, trapping workers inside large concrete buildings and killing at least 55 people, reports and officials said.

The fire in Jilin province's Mishazi township appeared to have been sparked by three early-morning explosions in the farm's electrical system, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

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 site.

The fire killed 55 people and injured dozens, said a Jilin provincial government spokesman who would only give his surname, Ma.

He declined to give further details.

Rescue workers found the bodies in the charred buildings, and rescue efforts were continuing.

CCTV footage showed dark smoke billowing up from the cement structures.

The fire at the poultry processor highlighted the lax safety standards at many Chinese workplaces at a time when the country's biggest pork producer is aiming to buy US food giant Smithfield in what would be China's biggest takeover of an American company.

The poultry plant's owner, Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co., is a major producer of processed chicken and employs about 1,200 people.

The plant is located outside the city of Dehui, about 800 km northeast of China's capital, Beijing.