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25 feared dead in fire at Latvian disabled home

A fire ripped through a home for disabled people in the town of Alsunga.

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Around 25 people were feared dead after a fire ripped through a home for disabled people in the town of Alsunga in western Latvia overnight, officials said on Friday.

"I cannot give you the exact number of dead, but we think it's around 25," said Inese Veisa, spokeswoman for the fire department.

"We have no information yet as to how the fire started but it broke out at 1:00 am and was put out at 5:00 am," she added.

Extremely cold temperatures of minus 30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) hampered the rescue effort.

"The rescuers are working well but the water was frozen," said Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis, who travelled to the scene of the blaze, 150 kilometres outside Riga.

"The scene of the rescue, of people being carried out, was dramatic. The people were handicapped, of all different ages," Godmanis said on independent television.

Around 90 patients, many of them with mental handicaps, lived in the home, set up in a three-storey converted mansion, officials said.

"The situation was extreme. The house was engulfed in flames, people were banging on doors, screaming; firemen were running into the house while others were trying to spray water from the firehoses, but it turned to ice," a witness to the blaze told Latvian radio.

Interior ministry official Aivars Straume, who is the former head of the State Fire and Rescue Service, was quoted by the Baltic News Service as saying that if the final death toll from the blaze reaches 27, it will be the most deadly fire in Latvia's history.

First Published: Feb 23, 2007 15:25 IST