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13 Children Killed In Tajik Orphanage Fire

(RFE/RL) 8 January 2006 -- Authorities in Tajikistan say that at least 13 children have been killed in a fire at a home for mentally handicapped children in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and other media reported.

Seventy-nine people who were also at the facility were reportedly evacuated after the blaze broke out early on 8 January.

A witness told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that firefighters arrived after the children had been evacuated.

"All six members of my family were here," Zebunniso Sarifova, who lives near the orphanage and said her family had helped escort dozens of children to safety, told RFE/RL. "When [the firefighters] came, we had already evacuated all the living children. I think 13 children have died. I was afraid to approach the dead children. There wasn't a chance to enter the building."

Investigation Launched Into Cause

Authorities suggested the use of electric heaters might have overloaded the building's electrical system, sparking the fire. The building was completely gutted by the fire.

The first deputy labor and public protection minister, Mahmud Qosimov, said a government commission has been set up to investigate the tragedy.

The head of Tajikistan's fire service, Nazarboi Jangiev, said the management of the children's home was fined in 2005 for not abiding by fire-prevention regulations.

"Thirteen children died. Thankfully, another 79 children were evacuated; one of them is now in hospital," Tajik Health Minister Nusrattullo Faizulloev said, according to Reuters. He also denied earlier official reports that 60 children had been injured. "They have suffered seriously psychologically," Faizulloev said.

(with additional wire reporting)