Chinese Poultry Plant Fire Kills More than 100Posted: August 26, 2013
HONG KONG — Explosions and fire tore through parts of a poultry processing plant in northeast China on Monday, killing at least 120 people in one of the country’s worst factory disasters in years.
Chinese news reports said many of the workers who had died had been hindered from leaving the factory, the Baoyuanfeng Poultry Plant, because the exits had been blocked or inadequate. The plant began operations four years ago and was considered a major domestic poultry supplier.
Survivors described panic inside the burning plant, as employees unfamiliar with the fire escapes jostled and trampled one another through smoke and flames to reach exits that turned out to be locked.
“Inside and outside the workshop was glowing red, and the lighting and escape indicators were all out,” one worker, Wang Xiaoyun, told the China News Service.
International concern over factory safety in Asia has been growning after accidents that have taken more than a thousand lives. The worst was a collapse of a garment factory complex in Bangladesh on April 24 that killed more than 1,120 people.
Residents near the poultry factory, in the Jilin Province town of Mishazi, heard explosions about 6 a.m. Parts of the plant were engulfed in flames, but it was unclear whether the fire had broken out before or after the blasts, according to television reports. The Chinese State Administration of Work Safety said 120 people were confirmed to have died, state television said.
The provincial government’s microblog news site said that 120 people were confirmed to have died.
By late in the day, Xinhua, the official news agency, said “people responsible” in the company that operates the plant had been arrested, but it did not identify them. The precise cause of the fire and explosions remained unclear.
“When I woke up, there was smoke rising in the air and sirens, and you knew straight away that it was bad news,” Dong Wenjun, a metal trader in Mishazi, said in a telephone interview. “But I didn’t expect it to be this bad. They were all local people, I think.”
Television news showed rescuers picking their way through the blackened debris.
The police, fearing more explosions from gas stored at the plant, evacuated nearby residents, the China News Service reported. More than 50 people were taken to a hospital, mostly for breathing difficulties from inhaling toxic gases, reports said.
Guo Yan, a plant employee, said she had heard a boom and then people shouting that there was a fire, Xinhua reported. One fire exit was blocked, and she had to escape through another, she told the news agency. “People were all rushing, pressing and crushing each other,” she said. “I fell over and had to crawl forward using all my might.”
Another report, from The Southern Metropolitan Daily, a newspaper in southern China, said only one exit had been open in the area where the fire started.
China’s food-processing industry has grown rapidly to feed an increasingly prosperous population in the nation’s cities, and the poultry plant appeared to be one beneficiary of that growth. Dehui City, which administers the area that includes the plant, has promoted itself as a base for commercial agriculture, animal feed production and food processing. By 2011, Dehui’s poultry industry had the capacity to produce 250 million broiler chickens a year and slaughter 150 million of them, according to the Jilin Province Web site.
Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry, which owns the Mishazi plant, has more than 1,200 employees, the China News Service said. The company can produce 67,000 tons of chicken products every year, the Agriculture Ministry said on its Web site in 2010.
Chinese factories and mines have been troubled by work hazards during the country’s rapid economic expansion. The frequent industrial accidents have drawn criticism that officials are putting economic growth before safety.
In what appeared to be a reflection of the problems, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping, who is traveling abroad, both promptly issued orders about the latest disaster. Mr. Xi told officials to “get to the bottom of the causes of this accident, pursue culpability according to the law, sum up the profound lessons and adopt effective measures to resolutely prevent major accidents from occurring,” Xinhua reported.
The government does not issue detailed figures for industrial accidents but has said safety is improving.
Official data shows that the rate of deaths per 100,000 workers in industry, mining and business fell by 13 percent in 2012 from a year earlier. It did not release accident and death totals.
China’s coal mines are notoriously unsafe. But Geoffrey Crothall, the communications director for China Labor Bulletin, an advocacy group in Hong Kong, said he could not recall a disaster of such magnitude at a factory or production plant. In 1993, a fire in a toy factory in far southern China killed 87 workers, he said. In late 2000, a fire at a shopping center in Luoyang in Henan Province killed 309 people. Mr. Li was the Henan governor at the time.
Mr. Crothall said it was too early to draw definitive conclusions about whether inadequate fire escapes, a longstanding problem in Chinese workplaces, had contributed to the number of deaths at the poultry plant.
“But many factories are locked for what the owners or managers consider to be security reasons, and fire exits are not properly maintained or given the priority they should be,” Mr. Crothall said.
Sue-Lin Wong contributed research from Beijing.Source: Chinese Poultry Plant Fire Kills More than 100 – NYTimes.com.