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|Subject: Fire Breaks Out in School, Kills 21 Students|
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Date Posted: April 07, 2003 6:23:32 EDT
A fire engulfed an old wooden school in the northern Siberian republic of Yakutia on Monday, killing 21 students and a teacher, emergency officials said.
Ten more students were hospitalized with burns and fractured limbs after they tried to escape the flames by jumping out the windows of the two-story building, said Yelena Mineyeva, spokeswoman for Yakutia's Emergency Situations Ministry. The students were aged 11-18.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the fire a "major calamity" and ordered the federal government to fully cooperate with authorities in Yakutia, about 3,000 miles east of Moscow.
He instructed his Cabinet to "provide help to the republic and immediately to the families of the victims," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The fire erupted at the beginning of the school day in a rural school in the village of Sydybal, said Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry in Moscow.
The village does not have a fire department, so fire trucks had to travel to the scene from a station located 12 miles away. By the time they arrived, the 1927-era building was engulfed in flames, Mineyeva said.
In rural Russian villages, most buildings are wooden and depend on heat from stoves, and sometimes safety standards are disregarded as people try desperately to keep warm during frigid winters.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has racked up some of the world's grimmest fire statistics. Fifty people a day - 18,000 a year - die in fires. Most are caused by people smoking while drinking or others who are just plain careless.
The fire death toll is 4 1/2 times greater than in the United States, which has twice the population. The contrast is even starker with the United Kingdom, which sees 600 fire deaths a year, or one per 100,000 people - compared to 12.5 per 100,000 in Russia.
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