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Hotel Fire in Northeastern China Kills 33 BEIJING -

Thirty-three people died when flames swept through a hotel in China's northeast on the Chinese New Year weekend, forcing guests to flee through smoke-choked hallways and smash windows in a frantic search for air, the government said Monday.


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The official Xinhua News Agency said the fire Sunday night tore through the Tiantan Hotel in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province near China's border with Russia. Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation, one doctor said.

"I heard a big noise and saw the smoke," said one hotel guest, Wang Lin. "Downstairs was chaos. People were shouting, `Fire! Fire!' I ran."

Witnesses quoted by Xinhua told of a chaotic scene in which some hotel guests ran toward the smoke in desperate search of an exit, while others broke windows and kicked through security bars in window wells to escape.

Authorities immediately ordered safety inspections across Harbin. The cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Sixteen people were hospitalized but were "out of danger" by Monday morning, Xinhua said, adding that more than 100 were evacuated after the blaze, which broke out at 6 p.m. and was extinguished in 22 minutes.

Wang, who checked into the hotel with 15 relatives about a half-hour before the fire, said her young son was outside playing when she noticed the fire.

She collected her child, went back into her room briefly and then fled, tossing her son out of a second-story window to people standing below. Later, she learned that her sister-in-law and nephew had been killed in the fire, Xinhua said.

Jia Xuezong, an emergency room doctor at Harbin No. 4 Hospital, where many of the victims were taken, said many died from the smoke.

"Most of them suffocated," he said. "Some of them burned to death or fell down and couldn't get out."

Harbin, a city of 9.1 million on the Songhua River, is about 800 miles northeast of Beijing. It is one of the country's coldest cities. Temperatures last week fell to 5 below zero, and coal is widely used for heating.

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