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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 March, 2003, 14:08 GMT
Fire hits Alexandria library
Bibliotheca Alexandrina
The new library opened in October
A fire has broken out in Egypt's newly-opened Alexandria library, and 29 people have been rushed to local hospitals suffering from smoke inhalation.

The fire was blamed on a short circuit.

The extent of damage at Bibliotheca Alexandrina has yet to be determined, but the fire appeared to be restricted to fourth-floor administrative offices.

Sixteen fire engines rushed to the scene and put out the blaze in about 45 minutes. Fifteen ambulances were seen outside the evacuated library.

"We were evacuated to outside, then [the] fire department arrived. The smoke [has] stopped now - everybody is safe, thank God," Leila Dewidar, head of the library's grants division, said.

Student spectators

Fire contributed to the destruction of the original Alexandria library, one of the world's great centres of learning in the ancient world.

People climb onto the roof of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina
People clambered onto the roof to escape

As the library was evacuated, hundreds of students from nearby colleges gathered to watch.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina is located in the middle of Alexandria's newly-renovated seaside promenade.

It was formally opened in October 2002 with great fanfare.

The inaugural ceremony was attended by Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, and about 3,000 dignitaries from around the world, including France's President Jacques Chirac, and his Italian and Greek counterparts Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Costas Stefanopoulos.

The $230 million project - which attracted international financial and logistical support - hopes to capture the spirit of the ancient Alexandria library that was founded around 295 BC by Ptolemy I Soter.

The ancient library, which burned down in the 4th Century, was an international intellectual centre.

The new library - which has room for 4 million volumes- contains about 240,000 books. It also contains a planetarium, a conference hall, five research institutes, six galleries and three museums.

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