HONG KONG — A fire at a slaughterhouse in China's northeastern Jilin province has left at least 119 people dead and 54 injured.
The blaze broke out just after 6:00 AM on Monday at a plant operated by Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company. Over 300 workers were at the plant when the fire started, according to Xinhua news agency.
Survivors told local media that they heard an explosion and saw smoke. Wang Fenya, a female worker, told Xinhua that shortly after she arrived at the workshop, "Someone shouted 'run away!' and we quickly ran to the exit, which is about 40 meters away from my seat.
"Suddenly, the lights inside went out and the plant got quite dark. When I finally ran out and looked back at the plant, I saw high flames."
Workers struggled to flee through the narrow passageways and cramped exits of the factory, which was locked from the outside, according to some local reports. Roughly 100 people escaped.
Late into Monday afternoon, the death toll continued to rise.
The China Labour Bulletin called the Jilin disaster "one of worst, if not the worst, factory fires in China in living memory," saying it already exceeded that of the infamous Zhili Toy Factory fire in Shenzhen in 1993, which killed 87 young migrant women workers and injured 47 others.
"However, the lack of proper fire safety equipment, exits and training for workers are all too commonplace in China's factories," the labor rights monitor wrote.
On Chinese social media, users shared photos of the slaughterhouse billowing smoke and sympathized with injured victims. Many asked why the doors of the workshop were locked and accused the company of poor safety design. Others called for the company president, Jia Yushan, to be held accountable for the tragedy.
Some also praised the government's transparency in providing updated information about the blast and casualty count.
Researcher Zhao Chen contributed to this story.