A fire at a poultry slaughterhouse in Northeastern China, possibly the worst ever of its kind, has killed more than 100 workers. State media is confirming 119 dead and more than 50 injured from the fire that started early Monday morning.
According to state-run Xinhua News Agency, some 300 employees where in the building when the fire broke out at around 6:00 AM at the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company. Survivors have spoken to local media, saying that they heard an explosion followed by smoke that filled the air. One survivor, Wang Fenya, a female factory worker at the company, said that shortly arriving at her work station, “someone shouted ‘run away!’”
“Suddenly, the lights inside went out, and the plant got quite dark. When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw high flames,” Wang recalled to Xinhua. According to the report, escaping the inferno was difficult because of narrow and cramped exit routes. Some reports also said that some exits were locked from the outside as well.
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While it is unclear if the factory was equipped with appropriate fire safety and emergency measures, the China Labour Bulletin said that dangerous standards for emergency exits in factories is common in China. “The lack of proper fire safey equipment, exits and training for workers are all too common place in China’s factories,” the labor rights group wrote. The group is also calling the Jilin factory fire “one of [the] worst, if not the worst, factory fires in China in living memory” based on fatalities. The last factory incident with a comparable death toll happened at a toy factory in Shenzhen in 1993, killing 87 migrant workers.
On Chinese social media, particularly the nation’s Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo, an outpouring of condolences and sympathies for victims of the explosion, along with photos from bystanders and local media, were trending. In addition, many are asking who may be responsible for the many lives lost, calling for an explanation as to why doors were locked, adding that the company’s president, Jia Yushan, is responsible for the tragedy.
"Why haven’t we seen a resignation yet?” one person on Weibo commented, agreeing that someone with the company should be held accountable.
"A black-hearted boss and those who profit are only concerned about economic interests, not the workers’ life and death. What about basic emergency equipment, basic emergency lighting?” another user lamented in a post.
Another popular post on Weibo said that safety concerns in the workplace should be of utmost importance especially considering today’s fire, as well as a two other recent incidents in Northeast China. Last Friday, a fire ripped through a grain farm in Heilongjiang, affecting 78 barns and more than 47,000 tons of grain. Yesterday, two workers were seriously injured while two others are still missing after an explosion at an oil refinery in Dalian, another city in northeastern China.
"Nothing can be more important than human life. Where are the necessary government departments? Clearly, something is wrong here,” the user said.