Fire in Russian home for elderly kills at least 31

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MOSCOW, Nov 5 (Reuters) At least 31 people died in a fire in a Russian home for the elderly and officials blamed the toll on slow evacuation procedures.

''Firefighters received a very late fire warning because the personnel waited for some reason for 30 minutes before calling,'' Russian Emergency Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said, adding that more than 200 people lived in the residence.

There were 287 elderly people, many of them disabled, and 12 staff in the residence when the blaze broke out at lunchtime on Sunday near the city of Tula, 200 km south of Moscow.

Thirty-one bodies had been recovered from the rubble by 1630 GMT on Monday and up to eight people were still unaccounted for, Russian news agencies quoted local officials as saying. Four people were taken to hospital.

The tragedy is the latest of a series of fires in Russia where state institutions have been criticised for poor management and inadequate attention to safety procedure.

Beltsov said the residence in Tula, built in 1952, had neither the warning system nor the equipment to combat the blaze.

''They had nothing at all ... And yet when the fire broke out, the personnel had plenty of time to evacuate the old people.

Investigators will now need to find out why it was not done,'' he said.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov ordered an immediate inquiry into the tragedy. The governor of the Tula region Vyacheslav Dudka said he believed the building was too old to serve as a home for the elderly, Russian news agencies reported.

In October, at least nine students died and 51 were injured when a fire engulfed a Moscow business institute.

In December last year, 45 patients at a Moscow women's drug treatment clinic burned to death when locked doors prevented them from escaping a blaze.

A fire in a retirement home in the Kuban region of southern Russia in March this year killed 62 residents and staff.

REUTERS NC AS0012

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