Fearing that a local school was to be used as a SARS (search) ward, protesters in a village east of Beijing ransacked the building, smashing windows and furniture, a witness and police said Tuesday.

The violence erupted Sunday in Chagugang, a town of some 30,000 about 60 miles southeast of China's capital, near the eastern port city of Tianjin (search).

Construction crews had installed metal partitions and beds in the vacant junior high school, said a construction worker reached there by telephone. He wouldn't give his name.

The protest erupted after residents heard the building was to be used to isolate patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome, the worker said.

"We have not had a single case here. Of course people would be worried about infection," the man said. Referring to building a SARS ward, he said, "They can't do that. They should also care about our health."

An official of the Tianjin Public Health Bureau, which is responsible for the town, said it had no plans to put SARS patients in the school. She said government of the county where Chagugang is located already has prepared an infectious diseases hospital for SARS cases.

"We won't use non-medical facilities to handle the disease," said the official, who would give only her surname, Li.

Officials of the county government and its health bureau refused to comment.

In Beijing (search), construction crews have been building a specialized 1,000-bed SARS ward in a town north of the city. The Chinese capital has reported 1,199 cases of the disease, with another 1,100 people quarantined with possible symptoms.

The construction worker in Chagugang said people with hammers and other tools broke into the school Sunday afternoon and smashed windows, broke up beds and tore down metal partitions.

Most of the protesters were farmers, who live within a few hundred yards of the building, he said. He said he didn't know how many people were involved, but "the streets and the school were all packed with people."

The construction worker said he left before police arrived, but had heard they dispersed the crowd at about midnight.

A resident reached by telephone in the town said nearly 30 people were taken away by police Sunday night. He would not give his name.

A police officer in Chagugang confirmed that protesters had broken windows at the school but wouldn't say how many were detained.

"It's just a misunderstanding. Nothing serious happened. All has calmed down now," said the officer, who wouldn't give his name. "They will be released after being educated."