BEIJING: At least 93 people were killed in a fire at a poultry processing plant in northeastern China, local officials said.
“As of 2:35 pm, altogether 93 people had died and 54 people were injured,” the Jilin provincial government information office said on its Weibo account, a service akin to Twitter, after the blaze at the plant in Dehui.
The official state news agency had earlier put the death toll at 55.
More than 300 workers were at the Baoyuan poultry plant in Dehui in Jilin province when the fire broke out and emergency workers searching for survivors were uncertain how many remained trapped inside, Xinhua reported.
“At least 55 people were killed,” the official news agency said, citing rescue officials.
The slaughterhouse gate was locked when the fire broke out, it added, but about 100 workers escaped. The facility had a “complicated interior structure” and narrow exits which were slowing the rescue work, Xinhua said.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but state broadcaster CCTV said eyewitnesses had heard a blast and suspected a leak of liquid ammonia.
CCTV also said on its Weibo account, a service akin to Twitter, that the blaze might have started with an electric spark in the plant.
Six hours after the fire broke out around 6:00 am it had largely been brought under control, CCTV said, but Xinhua added that firefighters were still working to extinguish it entirely.
A dramatic photo taken earlier in the day from an unnamed Weibo account and posted on a Hong Kong-based online news portal showed dense clouds of black smoke several times higher than the low-slung plant.
A bright blaze could be seen inside a row of windows in one part of the processing plant.
The image could not be independently verified, although the building looked similar to the one shown by CCTV.
The company, which began operations in 2009, employs 3,000 people and produces 67,000 tonnes of meat per year that is sold nationwide, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Workplace safety standards can be poor in China, where fatal accidents happen regularly at mines and factories, with some blaming lax enforcement of rules.
In some cases owners or company officials have been arrested as a result.
It was not clear whether poor standards were to blame for the fire in Dehui.
No arrests were immediately reported, and Xinhua said an investigation into the cause had begun.