China Detains Electrician in Hospital Fire That Killed 39

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Chinese authorities detained an electrician blamed for a hospital fire in the northeast that killed 39 people, a local Communist Party leader said Saturday as he apologized for the disaster.

Thursday's blaze in Liaoyuan forced patients to leap from second- and third-story windows in subfreezing weather. The city is about 400 miles northeast of Beijing.

"Initial investigation shows the fire accident was due to malpractice of an electrician, who has been detained by police," the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the city's party secretary, Zhao Zhenqi.

The report did not identify the electrician or say what he was accused of doing wrong or whether he would face criminal charges. Chinese police frequently detain people for questioning before deciding whether to file charges and formally arrest them.

"As a principal leader in the city, I felt deep regret for the fatal hospital fire," Zhao was quoted as saying. "I failed to exert myself to the utmost. I apologize to all people in the city for the accident."

Such apologies, once unthinkable for officials of China's ruling party, have become a regular event following fatalities in industrial accidents, fires and other disasters.

Also, the government said authorities confirmed no one was missing following the blaze, putting the final death toll at 39.

Some 89 patients jumped from the building, with 24 suffering serious injuries as they fled the flames, Xinhua said.

Chinese newspapers Saturday published photos of a 15-day-old boy, who survived the fire, sleeping in another hospital. News reports said the boy was thrown from a window of the burning hospital by a nurse and caught by his father.

Residents of Liaoyuan were shown lining up to donate blood.

The fire added to a string of large-scale disasters suffered by China in recent weeks despite repeated promises by the communist government to make public safety a priority.