A fire caused by fireworks set off inside a nightclub and a stampede of panicked partygoers trying to escape has killed at least 43 people in southern China, state media and government officials said today. The fire, which broke out late last night, also injured at least 88 people, an official with the Shenzhen Work Safety Bureau said, who refused to give his name. Shenzhen is just over the border with Hong Kong in Guangdong province.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the fire broke out in a club called King of the Dancers while hundreds of people were watching a show. An initial police investigation showed that the blaze was triggered by fireworks ignited during the show, Xinhua said. Many partygoers were hurt in a stampede to escape down "a narrow aisle," a club staff member was quoted by the agency as saying. "I saw people rushing out ... and all the lights were off," it quoted Yang Zhi as saying. Xinhua said Mr Zhi suffered burns to his neck.
Video footage aired today by Hong Kong's ATV news showed the smoke-filled nightclub after the fire. Overturned tables, broken glass and shoes lost by partygoers littered the floor. Guangdong province governor Huang Huahua blamed poor ventilation for the deaths. "There was something wrong with the architectural design," Huang told Hong Kong media after inspecting the nightclub. "If there was a better ventilation system, there wouldn't be so many deaths in the fire," he said. ATV said the nightclub had no windows and only one exit. Hong Kong's government-run broadcaster RTHK reported that Shenzhen authorities had detained 12 people after the fire.
An injured Hong Kong man, known as Mr Cheng, said the fire started after one performer on the stage set off fireworks. "I saw one of the performers shoot fireworks to the ceiling. I had no idea what the performance was, but the fire started," Mr Cheng told ATV from his Shenzhen hospital bed. "Many people fell to the floor. They shouted for help and cried. It was like in hell," he added. Fires and accidents in bars, theatres and other public places are common in China despite government pledges to improve safety. Many are caused by negligence and lax safety procedures, such as a lack of fire extinguishers and emergency exits.
In China's worst recent nightclub disaster, a fire blamed on a welding accident tore through a disco in the central city of Luoyang in December 2000, killing 309 people. * AP