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    Fire kills 62 in retirement home in southern Russia-1

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    At least 62 people died in a fire at an old people's home in southern Russia and a further 35 people were rescued, the regional emergencies center said Tuesday.

    (adds paragraphs 2, 5-18 , revises death toll)

    ROSTOV-ON-DON, March 20, (RIA Novosti) - At least 62 people died in a fire at an old people's home in southern Russia and a further 35 people were rescued, the regional emergencies center said Tuesday.

    Earlier reports said 63 people had died.

    The fire in a two-storey building in a small town in the Krasnodar Territory started at 01.11 a.m. local time (10.11 p.m. Monday GMT) and was put out four hours later.

    According to latest reports, 97 people were in the building when the fire started. A total of 30 people have been hospitalized, the Ministry of Emergency Situations said.

    The ministry said a late emergency call, staff misconduct and the remote location of the fire station contributed to the high death toll at the retirement home in the town of Kamyshevatskaya, located on the Sea of Azov coast.

    Natalya Lukash, a spokeswoman for the ministry's information department, said the nearest fire station was 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the town, when it should have been no farther than three kilometers (around 2 miles) away.

    She said it had taken the fire brigade almost an hour to get to the scene, and the first storey was engulfed by fire by the time they arrived.

    Lukash said the janitor had twice ignored the fire alarm making an emergency call only when he saw flames.

    She also said only four nurses had been on duty when the fire erupted and they were unable to properly evacuate the building.

    "Medical staff were absent from their work places and the nurses could not find keys to unlock the emergency exit when the fire broke out," the official said.

    The medical staff said 48 bedridden patients had been on the first storey.

    A ministry staff said the fire only swept through the first storey, and people on the second floor had died of asphyxiation. One of the medical staff was also killed in the fire.

    Sergei Kudinov, head of the local department of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, said repair work was being carried out in the building, which included the use of a welding set. The work was to be completed in the last room within two days and the official said it was that room where the fire had started.

    "The fire started in a room, which was not equipped with a fire alarm system," he said.

    Kudinov added that a scheduled inspection of the building had been held in January 2006 and revealed violations of fire regulations. An additional check in December established that not all of them had been rectified.

    Local prosecutors have opened a criminal case on manslaughter charges. "We are also considering versions of negligence, a short circuit and arson," said Kudinov.

    Alexander Tkachyov, the governor of the Krasnodar Territory, interrupted his business trip to deal with the accident. Wednesday has been announced a day of mourning in the Territory.

    It was the latest in a string of fires that have hit medical institutions in Russia over the last several months. In December, a fire in a Moscow addiction clinic killed 46 people, and another 10 were killed in a fire in a psychiatric and neurological clinic in the Kemerovo Region in Russia's southwestern Siberia.

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