DEHUI, Jilin, June 5 (Xinhua) — Two days after a fire raged through a poultry plant in northeast China’s Jilin Province, leaving 120 people dead and 77 injured, the relatives of the deceased are participating in DNA testing in order to claim the bodies of their loved ones.
“We hope to see her one last time,” said Li Yanguo. His 20-year-old niece, Li Feng, went missing after the fire broke out early Monday morning at a poultry processing plant in the city of Dehui.
The State Council, or China’s cabinet, has dispatched a special work team to investigate the fire.
Although the investigation results have yet to come in, a question has been lingering among many survivors and the victims’ relatives: why were the doors of the workshop locked at the time of the fire, preventing many from escaping?
Lying on a bed at the Changchun Central Hospital in the provincial capital of Changchun, Wang Fengya said she feels sick when she recalls the accident.
Wang said she and her colleagues could not open a door that was used as an emergency exit when the fire broke out.
“People ahead shouted and tried to push the door open, but it wouldn’t budge,” she recalled. “Somebody opened the door with a key and we rushed out.” Wang was slightly burned and is receiving treatment at the hospital.
Of the 77 workers who were injured, many are suffering from skin and respiratory burns.
Some survivors said their workshop was windowless and that the main gate was usually locked, leaving only a few side doors for passage.
“Scores of people died just a few steps away from the locked main gate,” one survivor said.
Another survivor, Guan Zhiguo, also blamed the locked doors for the severe casualties.
Guan said he saw a few female workers screaming behind a locked door after he ran out of the building.
He said no one questioned why the doors were locked before the accident. “Now I am remorseful, but I don’t know who I should blame,” he said.
It is not the first time that locked doors have been reported in fatal fires. Emergency passages that were sealed with iron bars were found in an investigation that was conducted following a shopping mall blaze that killed 309 people in central China’s Henan Province in 2000.
INDIFFERENCE TO HAZARDS
The managers of the poultry plant, as well as local supervisory authorities, seem to have paid little attention to preventing and handling risks.
The Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company had over 50 tonnes of ammonia stored in the workshop where the fire occurred.
Ammonia, which both caustic and hazardous, must be stored under high pressure or at a low temperature. However, few people in the factory were aware of the dangers of the substance and the workers were never informed.
“I knew ammonia can be used as a refrigerant, but I had no idea that the tanks might explode,” said Chai Jinfeng, an employee who barely escaped the fire.
Employee “Qin Dalong” (alias) said he was on duty inside a warehouse refrigerator when he saw dark smoke pouring out of the workshop. He and dozens of his colleagues ran out of the warehouse, hearing loud explosions just minutes later.
Like Chai, nearly all survivors interviewed by Xinhua said they had never received any training on fire prevention. The company has 1,200 employees, but none of them have participated in evacuation drills since the company became operational in 2009, according to some survivors.
“It was a mess and I was totally stunned. All the lights went off and I fumbled along the wall and barely escaped using my instincts,” said an employee surnamed Yu.
“I had no survival skills and no one trained us,” she said.
Lax supervision is also being blamed for the heavy casualties.
The company was not recognized by local authorities as a company that requires high-level fire prevention. In addition, flammable construction materials contributed to the spread of the fire and insufficient fire prevention equipment made the casualties worse, according to a local government official.
The poor design of the plant’s exits made escaping difficult, said Gao Guangbin, Communist Party of China (CPC) chief of the provincial capital of Changchun, at a meeting held on Tuesday.
“All construction materials used to build the workshop were flammable, creating an enormous fire hazard,” he said.
A worker at the company earns about 2,000 to 3,000 yuan (326 to 489 U.S. dollars) a month, an income that is quite attractive to locals who are used to earning a meager living by farming.
The blaze, however, has changed the opinions of many who had hoped to earn more by working at a factory.
Wang Huihua, 43, was lucky enough to survive the accident. But he said he has a hard time sleeping. “Every time I try to close my eyes, I see huge flames,” he said.
“I won’t do this kind of work any more after leaving the hospital,” he said. “I will stick to farming and I will treat my parents and kids better.”
Editor: Mu Xuequan
Article link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2013-06/05/c_124817999.htm