, BEIJING, MAY 26 – A fire at a nursing home in central China left at least 38 people dead, officials said Tuesday, with bodies burned beyond recognition and wheelchairs reduced to charred frames.
The fire broke out on Monday evening in an apartment building at a privately-owned old people’s home in Pingdingshan, the state news agency Xinhua said.
“The bodies were so badly burned, we couldn’t tell who was who,” Xinhua quoted one victim’s relative saying of the identification process.
Pictures posted online showed a thick column of black smoke rising from behind a petrol station near the facility.
Another displayed the blackened frame of a building, with a burnt-out wheelchair in the foreground.
“Only myself and one other roommate managed to get out,” survivor Zhao Yulan, 82, who shared her room with 11 other people, told Xinhua.
The agency said the home had 51 residents and the blaze was extinguished less than an hour after it broke out.
Two of the injured were in critical condition in hospital, the work safety bureau of the central province of Henan said in a statement on its website.
The cause of the fire remained unclear.
Industrial accidents and fires are common in China, where enforcement of safety standards can be lax, with some property and business owners paying off corrupt officials to look the other way.
A nine-year-old boy was detained in February after a shopping mall inferno killed 17 people in Huidong, in the southern province of Guangdong. Police said that blaze was “caused by a boy playing with fire at the mall”.
A fire at a poultry plant in the northeast of the country killed 119 people in 2013.
Reports at the time said that managers had locked doors inside the factory to prevent workers from going to the toilet, leading to the high death toll.
Nursing homes in the country, where care workers are often outnumbered several times over by sick and elderly residents, are also prone to accidents and abuses.
In 2013, 11 nursing home patients burned to death in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang after one of them set the facility on fire in a row over money.
In February this year, a worker in Hunan province killed three people and injured another 15 when he attacked residents and staff at a nursing home after a row with its owner.