ALMATY – A fire at a clinic for drug addicts in the southeastern Kazakh city of Taldykorgan killed 38 people on Sunday, the Central Asian state's government said.

It said in a statement that workers evacuated and rescued another 40 people from the facility, built in 1951 using blocks of pressed cane stems. The cause of the fire, which had raged for more than three hours, was unknown.

The fire had spread rapidly because fire fighters had been alerted late, the Emergencies Ministry said in a statement, adding that a special government commission was investigating the incident.

It said 36 of the victims were patients and two others - staff members of the clinic.

The facility is one of many state-run healthcare institutions offering treatment and counseling to drug addicts in the former Soviet republic which lies on the main drug trafficking route from Afghanistan to Western Europe.

There are about 55,000 officially registered drug addicts in the 16-million nation where, in addition to smuggled Afghan opium and heroin, local wild-growing cannabis is available in abundance.

(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva)