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37 killed as fire rages through drug centre

Fire roared through a drug treatment centre in Kazakhstan with a history of safety violations yesterday, killing 37 people as patients tried to escape through barred windows.

The blaze broke out at about 5.30am local time and quickly spread. About 40 people were evacuated. "I heard them screaming for 20 minutes," said a woman who lives across the street, and gave her name only as Fatima. "They were screaming 'Save us, save us'".

The cause of the fire was not immediately known. Locked doors and bars on the windows blocked some escape routes, the Emergency Situations Minister, Vladimir Bozhko, said.

He said inspectors had found violations in the building during a visit in May. Violations of safety regulations are common in much of the former Soviet Union and fatal fires are frequent. There have been almost 10,000 fires in Kazakhstan in the first eight months of 2009.