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39 Dead In China Hospital Fire

Patients leapt from the windows of a burning four-story hospital to escape a blaze that killed at least 39 people in China's northeast, the government said Friday.

Thousands of local residents watched helplessly as patients jumped from windows on the third and fourth floors in subfreezing weather after rescuers failed to reach them, the official Xinhua News Agency said. A hospital official said that a father caught his 15-day-old child after a nurse threw the baby from a window.

Witnesses said firefighters struggled for five hours to put out the blaze that broke out Thursday at the City Central Hospital, the largest hospital in Liaoyuan, 400 miles northeast of Beijing in Jilin province.

Investigators believe the fire started in a power distribution room, Xinhua said.

The remains of 24 people were found at the scene and 15 others died after being transferred to other hospitals, Xinhua said.

Rescuers on Friday were still searching for other victims, it said. Overnight temperatures in the city were reported as low as 1 degree.

A woman who answered the telephone at the maternity ward of the Liaoyuan Women's and Children's Hospital said a newborn baby boy was thrown from the window of the City Central Hospital by a nurse and was caught by his father, Wang Xuzhi.

The boy, who has not yet been named, was not hurt but was under observation at the Women's and Children's Hospital, said the woman, who declined to give her name. She did not say which floor he was thrown from. It was not immediately known if the boy's mother or the nurse who saved him survived.

Some 183 patients, 20 of them in critical condition, were moved to seven other hospitals in Liaoyuan, Xinhua said. It wasn't clear whether the patients were in critical condition before the incident or were injured by the fire or attempts to escape.

Ten hospital staff were among the injured, Xinhua said.

Xinhua quoted 43-year-old patient Wang Mingwen as saying that he saved himself and his wife by tying a quilt to a heating pipe and throwing the other end out the window to climb down from the third floor.

However, his wife Ni Shuping lost her grip and fell from the second floor, seriously injuring herself, Wang said.

Some 100 people jumped or climbed down knotted bed sheets to escape the flames, the Huaxi Metropolitan News, a newspaper in the southwestern province of Sichuan, said on its Web site.

Another patient, Chen Zhifu, who was hospitalized for an eye injury, broke both legs jumping from the third floor, Huaxi said.

"I was really desperate. I couldn't open my eyes. I couldn't breathe. I had to jump or I would have burned to death," Chen was quoted as saying.

State television showed about a dozen fire trucks and ambulances in front of the hospital as the last of the fire was extinguished Thursday night. Water used to put out the flames had turned into icy patches on the concrete.

Also Thursday, China's Ministry of Public Security reported that China suffered more than 2,000 deaths in more than 222,000 accidental fires from January to November, Xinhua said.

In recent weeks, China has experienced a number of high-profile accidents, including a series of coal mining disasters that claimed several hundred lives and a major chemical spill that poisoned a river and shut down water supplies to the northern city of Harbin.

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