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Hospital fire kills 12 vulnerable patients

Updated: 2012-10-24 08:14
By Agencies ( China Daily)


Hospital fire kills 12 vulnerable patients

Investigators search for the possible causes of an early morning fire that swept through the Sinying Hospital's nursing ward on Tuesday in Tainan city, Taiwan. The fire killed at least 12 people. Associated Press

At least 12 people were killed and 60 injured when a blaze tore through a hospital catering mainly to bed-ridden and mentally ill seniors in southern Taiwan in the early hours of Tuesday morning, health authorities said.

Local media said police had arrested a person believed to be a hospital patient on suspicion of starting the blaze. Police and prosecutors declined to comment.

The fire started in a nursing facility housing more than 100 elderly and mentally ill patients in Tainan city who were evacuated during the incident, a local health official said.

An earlier estimate by an official had placed the number of injured at 72 but the figure was revised down in a health department statement.

The cause of all the deaths was believed to be smoke inhalation while the injured were rushed to a dozen hospitals for treatment, the official said.

It was the worst hospital fire in recent years, and the cause of the fire is under investigation, she added.

Fire officials said that the blaze possibly started in a storage room on the second floor of the five-floor building, a branch of the public Sinying Hospital.

Firefighters were alerted at 3:29 am and had put out the fire by 4:16 am, the health department of Tainan city said.

Television footage showed the burnt-out second floor and bed-ridden and wheelchair-bound patients being carried out to the hospital's lawn.

Most of the patients were already very unwell and attached to nasogastric, urinal or respiratory tubes.

Scattered on the lawn in front of the hospital were charred pillows, quilts, oxygen tanks and wheelchairs.

Chiu Wen-ta, chief of Taiwan's health authority, told reporters that most of the patients treated at the medical care facility had respiratory conditions or could not move around freely.

Local police have cordoned off the hospital and are investigating the cause of the blaze.

Lai Ching-te, mayor of Tai-nan, told reporters that the fire was unusually deadly because the hospital was in a relatively remote area and most of the patients were immobile.

Relatives of the patients rushed to the hospital. Chiu Wen-ta assured the public that the authorities will identify the dead and injured as soon as possible.

Chiu also announced that an islandwide check on fire equipment in all medical facilities will be conducted this week, though there has been no suggestion so far that faulty equipment was to blame for this incident.

A woman complained to reporters that she only learned about the fire on TV because the hospital failed to notify the patients' families, and she was still unable to locate her relative after several hours.

By afternoon, some relatives had arrived at a local funeral home to identify the bodies of their loved ones as social and charity workers offered support.

The fire also raised concerns in the local media about whether staff levels at the hospital had been sufficient, as there were only six workers on night duty for the 70 patients.

AFP - Xinhua