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33 students killed in Moscow fire

Moscow, Nov 24 (Reuters): A fire blamed on an electrical fault ripped through a Moscow dormitory block in the early hours of Monday, killing 33 foreign students and injuring at least 170, including Indians.

Some students broke their legs or backs leaping from windows in the crowded five-storey block whose residents were from the developing world. Rescuers outside worked in freezing temperatures to help them.

The Chinese embassy said 13 Chinese students were missing and 46 injured. President Hu Jintao expressed “extreme concern” and Premier Wen Jiabao extended “dearest sympathies”, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on its website, www.fmprc.gov.cn.

They ordered officials with China’s education and foreign ministries and at the embassy in Moscow to probe the fate of the missing and assist the victims. Chinese diplomats were at the scene of the blaze, the embassy official said.

“People were jumping from the windows because it started on the second floor and there was no other way out. It was absolutely horrible,” Richard Mallobe, a sociology student from Liberia, said. “It happened very fast. Some people jumped and were burnt so we tried to get them into ambulances.”

Students said the concrete building — a typical example of construction across the Soviet Union in the 1960s — had housed newly arrived students awaiting medical checks, and was notorious for being filthy and overcrowded.

“Thirty-three students were killed, and 170 are in hospital,” an emergencies ministry official said. Officials said three of the bodies had been found outside the building.

A total of 272, including students from India, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Ecuador, Tahiti, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Angola were registered as living in the block, he said.

The head of Moscow's emergencies hospital, which held 34 of the injured, told Rossiya state television four were in critical condition with respiratory burns and carbon monoxide poisoning.

At another hospital, Francie, a 28-year-old student from Ivory Coast, said she broke her leg after jumping out of the window of her third-floor room with her roommate.

“It was the only solution,” she said. Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, commenting on how the fire started, told NTV: “According to preliminary information, which we have now investigated, the cause was domestic. Most likely, there was a short circuit.”

The state-run Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University, founded in 1960, was named after Congo’s independence leader. It was built to provide subsidised Communist education to students from the developing world.

Dmitry Bilibin, the university’s rector, said the fire had started in a room occupied by three female African students.

“We have found two, who ran to their friends’ place, and are looking for the third. We know they are alive. They were scared, and now police are questioning them because the situation is not easy to understand,” he told First Channel television.

Local officials told news agencies the block was equipped with all fire precautions but Vashish, 22, a medical student from Mauritius, said one of its two staircases was blocked.

“There were only supposed to be two people in each room, but there were always three,” he said. “There were absolutely filthy communal bathrooms and people used to try to move out and get into a new building as soon as they could.”

Silvio Fernandez, 24, a language student from Cape Verde, said the blaze began at about 2300 GMT in two rooms on the second floor and spread to the rest of the building. Fire brigades extinguished it by about 0230 GMT.

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