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ALMATY (Reuters) -- A fire at a clinic for drug addicts in the southeastern Kazakh city of Taldykorgan has killed 38 people, the Central Asian state's government said.

It said in a statement that workers evacuated and rescued another 40 people from the facility, built in 1951 using blocks of pressed cane stems. The cause of the fire, which had raged for more than three hours, was unknown.

"The fire had spread rapidly because fire fighters had been alerted late", the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement, adding that a special government commission was investigating the incident.

It said 36 of the victims were patients and two others were staff members of the clinic.

The facility is one of many state-run health-care institutions offering treatment and counseling to drug addicts in the former Soviet republic, which lies on the main drug-trafficking route from Afghanistan to Western Europe.

There are about 55,000 officially registered drug addicts in the country of 16 million where, in addition to smuggled Afghan opium and heroin, local wild-growing cannabis is available in abundance.