Sunday, February 20, 2011

Orphanage fire kills 10 children in Estonia

A fire raced through an orphanage for disabled children in western Estonia on Sunday, killing 10 of them, a salvage service spokesman said. There were 37 children and nine adults inside the wooden building when the fire happened at 2:30 p.m. (1230GMT) in the coastal town of Haapsalu, said Viktor Saaremets, a spokesman for the Western Estonia Rescue Services Center.

"By the time salvage workers and firefighters arrived at the scene three or four minutes later the building was completely in flames," he said. Ten children were killed and one adult was hurt, Saaremets said. The others were abandoned to a nearby building and were not hurt, he said.

The cause of the fire was not right away clear. "Fire safety inspectors went there in January and found that the building met all the necessary criteria," Saaremets said.

Estonian newspaper Postimees showed pictures on its website of flames tearing into a one-story wooden building. Dead were carried out from a window, as thick smoke billowed from the roof.

The Estonian government met for an crisis meeting after the blaze and declared Monday a nationwide day of grief. Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves expressed his pity. "The tragic accident in the Haapsalu orphanage shocked the whole of Estonia today," Ilves said in a brief statement.

Local officials in Haapsalu told Estonian media that the number of victims was improbable to rise.

The Haapsalu orphanage was opened as a home for immobilized children in 1950, when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, according to its website. In 1996 it moved into the current building, which was funded by the Estonian government as well as Swedish, Finnish and US donors.