Breaking News:Tallinn, Estonia: Ten Children Killed In Orphanage Fire: UPDATED

20 Feb

Haapsalu lastekodu põleng 
By TIMUR NISAMETDINOV, Associated Press Timur Nisametdinov, Associated Press :

TALLINN, Estonia – A fire raced through an orphanage for disabled children in western Estonia on Sunday, killing 10 of them, a rescue service spokesman said.

There were 37 children and nine adults inside the wooden building when the fire started at 2:30 p.m. (1230GMT) in the coastal town of Haapsalu, said Viktor Saaremets, a spokesman for the Western Estonia Rescue Services Center.

“By the time rescue workers and firefighters arrived at the scene three or four minutes later the building was completely in flames,” he said.

Ten children were killed and one adult was injured, Saaremets said. The others were evacuated to a nearby building and were not hurt, he said.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.

“Fire safety inspectors went there in January and found that the building met all the necessary criteria,” Saaremets said.

Estonian newspaper Postimees showed pictures on its website of flames tearing into a one-story wooden building. Victims were carried out from a window, as thick smoke billowed from the roof.

The Estonian government met for an emergency meeting after the blaze and declared Monday a nationwide day of mourning.

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves expressed his condolences.

“The tragic accident in the Haapsalu orphanage shocked the whole of Estonia today,” Ilves said in a brief statement.

Local officials in Haapsalu told Estonian media that the number of victims was unlikely to rise.

The Haapsalu orphanage was opened as a home for disabled children in 1950, when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, according to its website. In 1996 it moved into the current building, which was funded by the Estonian government as well as Swedish, Finnish and U.S. donors.

___

Associated Press writers Paul O’Mahony in Stockholm and Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

Haapsalu lastekodu põleng

NEWS UPDATE:

The small Baltic nation of Estonia reeled Sunday after 10 children perished in a fire that swept through a home for disabled youngsters, most of the residents of which were orphans.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves Enlarge photo

“Today’s tragedy in Haapsalu has shocked the whole of Estonia,” President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a statement issued shortly after news emerged of the grim toll in the northwestern town.

“We all share the mourning of the families and relatives of the victims and extend our condolences. Words are a feeble way to give solace, but let us offer support to those whom this dreadful accident has affected,” Ilves said.

Earlier Sunday, local governor Neeme Suur told reporters that the final toll appeared to have reached 10, all of them children. Two adult care-workers were taken to hospital, but their lives were not in danger.

There were a reported 37 children and nine adults in the one-storey, wooden building when the fire broke out.

“The fire started when the children were having their regular afternoon nap,” Social Affairs Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters after rushing to the town of 12,000, which lies 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital Tallinn.

“The fire safety and alarm systems at the home were last controlled in January 2011,” he added.

No details of the victims’ ages or identities were revealed, but according to the orphanage’s website, the home was for youngsters aged under 18.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official told AFP that the youngest victim may have been four years old.

The daily newspaper Paevaleht said hard questions would have to be answered. “Fire safety in Estonian social service homes is bad,” it headlined on its website.

Firefighters were called out at 2:30 pm (1230 GMT), and took two hours to control the blaze.

“When the emergency services arrived at the scene, the wooden building was in flames,” said rescue chief Priit Laos. “The building has partly been destroyed, and there is fire and soot damage throughout it. The orphans have been taken to a hostel for the homeless.”

After the fire, locals flocked to help in the salvage operation.

According to the home’s website, a total of 47 youngsters lived there, with 28 of them orphans or abandoned children, and the rest of whose parents could not care for them. All were severely disabled and most used wheelchairs.

“A criminal investigation over the fire has been launched,” said Erkki Koort, a senior interior ministry official. That did not imply that authorities suspected foul play, however, because such a probe is automatic after a fire.

The Estonian government declared a day of mourning for the victims on Monday, with flags to fly at half-mast across the nation of 1.3 million.

“Sunday turned suddenly into a black day when we learned that so many innocent children perished in an orphanage. A home that is supposed to be secure took the lives of those kids,” speaker of parliament Ene Ergma said in a statement.

“Our hearts are broken for the kids, and our deep condolences go out to all the loved ones of those who perished,” she added.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip held a telephone conference with his cabinet Sunday, ahead of a sitting Monday where the interior and social affairs ministers will report on the tragedy, government spokeswoman Liina Kersna told AFP.

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