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The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"The firework industry in China is a notoriously dangerous one"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:45 GMT
Victims 'were making firecrackers'
Destroyed school building
Four classrooms collapsed in the explosion
A Chinese primary school that collapsed in an explosion killing dozens of children was using pupils to manufacture fireworks, according to state media.


The pupils were working on firecrackers in their classroom on the first floor

Local doctor quoted by AFP
Witnesses said children as young as eight were forced to assemble firecrackers for local factories in their classrooms.

At least 37 pupils and four teachers were killed in the blast in eastern Jiangxi province, one of China's poorest regions.

Some witnesses put the death toll at about 60. Nearly all the victims are believed to have been young children.

The school in Fang Lin village was packed with about 200 pupils and teachers when the blast ripped through the two-storey building at 1110 (0310 GMT) on Tuesday, destroying four classrooms.

Map
A doctor who rushed to the scene said the pupils had been putting fuses into firecrackers at the time of the explosion.

The official website of the state-run Nanfang Daily said local firework factories had been using primary schools to make firecrackers since 1998.

It said the teachers had received a share of the profits.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights in China said the school was using the fireworks business to boost its income.

Our correspondent in Shanghai says funding shortages have often prompted rural schools to seek alternative ways of generating money.

Jiangxi's governor, Shu Shengyou, has promised severe punishment for those responsible.

Income

Military units were rushed to the scene after the blast to help the rescue operation.

Injured child in hospital
Children were dug from the wreckage and taken to hospital
Villagers used spades and bare hands to try and reach children trapped under the rubble.

"They suffered terribly - some of the bodies had their heads blown off," said Ding Haigen, a builder who helped dig out bodies.

Mr Ding said teachers had been forcing students to assemble firecrackers during their lunch hour for two or three years, despite complaints by parents.

Some reports suggested the children had been paid pocket money, but Mr Ding said they had not received anything.

Poverty

Fireworks blasts
August 2000: At least 21 killed in Jiangxi
June 2000: At least 36 killed in Guangdong
March 2000: 33 killed in Jiangxi
Assembling firecrackers is a cottage industry in the region and villagers said accidents were common.

The extent of poverty was underlined when phone calls to the local fire brigade were met with a recorded message, saying the number had been disconnected because phone bills had not been paid.

Last year more than 50 people died in two major firework explosions in Jiangxi.

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See also:

05 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
China fireworks blast kills 21
02 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China closes fireworks factories
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger of 'firework school' parents
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rising child labour in China
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