Fire swept through a poultry processing plant in northeastern China on Monday, trapping workers inside a slaughterhouse with only a single open exit and killing at least 119 people in one of the country’s worst industrial disasters in years.
Survivors described panic as workers, mostly women, struggled through smoke and flames to reach doors that turned out to be locked or blocked.
One worker, 39-year-old Guo Yan, said the emergency exit at her workstation could not be opened and she was knocked to the ground in the crush of workers searching for a way to escape.
“I could only crawl desperately forward,” Guo was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency. “I worked alongside an old lady and a young girl, but I don’t know if they survived.”
The accident highlights the high human costs of China’s lax industrial safety standards, which continue to plague workplaces despite recent improvements in the country’s work safety record.
Besides the dead, dozens were injured in the blaze in Jilin province’s Mishazi township, which appeared to have been sparked by three early morning explosions, Xinhua said.
The provincial fire department attributed the blasts to an ammonia leak. The chemical is kept pressurized as part of the cooling system in meat processing plants.