September 21, 2008 / 1:44 AM / 9 years ago

Fire in illegal Chinese dance hall kills 43

<p>Firemen search for survivors after a fire at a dance club in Shenzhen, Guangdong province September 21, 2008.China Daily</p>

SHENZHEN (Reuters) - A fire at an illegal dance club in southern China, just across the border from Hong Kong, left 43 mostly young people dead and another 88 injured, another grim reminder of the country's broken regulatory system.

The fire broke out just before midnight at the packed King of the Dancers club, sparked by a pyrotechnics display on the third floor, said Xinhua, quoting local police as saying.

The owner of the club, located in a blue collar area about an hour's taxi ride from downtown Shenzhen, was being questioned by police, while 12 people had been detained, said Xinhua.

The main hall quickly filled with deadly smoke after the roman candle-type display touched ceiling tiles, and the lights went off soon after -- plunging panicking revelers into darkness, said witnesses.

"The fire wasn't that big, but there was a lot of smoke," said a man surnamed Zhang, who said he worked at the club.

"Everyone was crowding towards the front entrance, because they didn't know about the one in the back," said Zhang.

"We tried to tell them, but nobody would listen," he said.

Policemen at the scene told Reuters that there could more victims on the fourth floor as recovery efforts had been limited mostly the third floor.

Local media and witnesses said the club operated without a proper license, but local officials could not confirm that.

<p>A mother (C) grieves over the death of her son killed in a fire as relatives try to console her at a hospital at Longgang district in China's southern city of Shenzhen September 21, 2008.Bobby Yip</p>

Just hours later a coal mine gas accident in central Henan Province claimed 37 lives, said Xinhua.

Rescue efforts are underway at the privately-owned mine, which had 108 miners underground at the time of the accident, 64 of which were able to escape, it said.

China is trying close smaller unsafe mines, but with soaring coal prices mine operators working in concert with local officials have strong financial incentives to keep their mines open.

Slideshow (9 Images)

In a separate accident, Xinhua said that the death toll from a coal mine fire on Saturday in northeast China climbed to 19, with another 12 miners still missing as the level of toxic gases continued to rise as the fire continued to burn underground.

That mine's owner, manager, a vice manager in charge of production and another in charge of ventilation, were in police custody, said the news agency.

The rash of accidents come as China is scrambling to contain a spreading scandal over tainted dairy products that has killed four children, made thousands more ill, triggered a regionwide recall and sparked an outcry from trading partners.

Premier Wen Jiabao presided over a cabinet meeting last week, after which the government said the incident reflected chaotic industry conditions, loopholes in the supervision and management of the dairy industry.

Many of the deaths and injuries to the club fire occurred in a stampede to escape through a narrow hallway, said Xinhua.

The Party chief of the province, Wang Yang, has ordered an immediate investigation into the cause of the accident, said Xinhua, without giving any other details.

Writing by Kirby Chien; Editing by David Fox

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