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Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Gas pipe clue to Tokyo explosion
Kabukicho cordon
Police cordoned off the area around the blast
A broken gas pipe may give a clue to the cause of a catastrophic explosion and fire in a busy Tokyo entertainment district, which left 44 dead.

Fire officials said they had found the pipe near the door of the Ikkyu mahjong gaming parlour, where the blast occured about 0100 on Saturday (1600GMT Friday).

Police are also investigating the possibility of arson.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has called for a full investigation.

Severe burns and carbon monoxide poison were given by police as the causes of the victims' deaths.

Three people who jumped from the fourth floor roof of the building were injured, but expected to survive.

The explosion occured when an employee of the gaming parlour opened a door.

Police said the explosion ripped a hole measuring 1.5 metres by 50 centimetres (five feet by 1.5 feet) in the wall of the building.

It is one of Japan's worst fire disasters since World War II.

The dead were 32 men and 12 women.

Shinjuku firefighters
Firefighters took five hours to put out the blaze
The building, in the Kabukicho entertainment district near Shinjuku railway station, housed the gaming parlour, sex clubs and several restaurants.

People found it hard to flee the fire because there were few windows and only one entrance to the building.

Firefighters said that fire doors did not shut properly, and there were no emergency ladders on the second and third floors of the buildings.

The extreme heat hampered the firefighters' efforts.

"The heat and the smoke was just too great. It was hot and cramped," said a fire department spokesman.

Dead on arrival

Most of the victims died on the top, fourth floor, where clients were packed into a hostess bar.

Many were rushed to hospital, but were declared dead on arrival.

Witnesses said they had heard a loud bang before smoke started emerging from the building.

People in the parlour fled to the roof as the fire spread through the third and fourth floors.

The top two floors were destroyed by the fire, which took five hours to put out.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's John McIntyre
"Few people found it possible to escape"
The BBC's Caspar Leighton
"The fire was the worst Tokyo has seen since the second world war"
See also:

01 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
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