Blaze in Polish homeless shelter kills 21 people

A FAST-MOVING fire tore through a three-storey building housing homeless families in north-western Poland early yesterday, killing at least 21 people and injuring 20 more, including an infant, officials said.

“I couldn’t breathe, so I opened the window and looked out, and the door was on fire because it was essentially made of paper,” a survivor told reporters.

“I put my pants on and boots, and a friend gave me a jacket, and there wasn’t any more time because it was burning like a torch. Some people jumped into the trees,” the unidentified middle-aged man said.

The blaze broke out about 1am in a shelter for people waiting for social housing in Kamien Pomorski, 600km north-west of the Polish capital said Pawel Fratczak, a spokesman for Poland’s national firefighters.

“It is going to be hard to identify many of them because they are so badly burned,” Fratczak said

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, but police and fire investigators were examining the scene for clues.

There were 77 people registered as residents.

The injured, many of whom suffered broken bones after jumping out of windows on the upper floors to escape the blaze, were taken to local hospitals. Two people were being treated for burns, including an 8-month-old baby.

“I’m in shock. The most important thing is that we’re alive and that the kids are alive,” a woman lying in a hospital bed with burns visible on her face told TVN24 through tears.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk flew to Kamien Pomorski early yesterday to inspect the damage, and promised aid for those who escaped the blaze.

“The help will be full and will ensure the housing needs of those who survived this disaster,” said Tusk. “The most important thing is to help those who survived, but... we still cannot say with full certainty say that the list of those killed is final.”

President Lech Kaczynski declared three days of national mourning.


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