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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 20:36 GMT
Foreigners perish in Moscow blaze
People lay flowers outside the charred hostel
The university caters for some 10,000 foreign students
A night-time fire has engulfed a Moscow hostel, killing 36 students and injuring at least 170 - most of them from the developing world.

Many were hurt when they jumped from the windows of the five-storey hostel as flames rose from the first floor.

"There was just no other way to get out of there - it was horrific," a Liberian told Russian media as other students frantically sought news of friends.

Moscow's mayor said the fire seemed to have been sparked by a short circuit.

This university is over-enrolled, with authorities not caring about the standards of hostels, they are only interested in money
Chisha, Zambia/Russia

One of the two emergency stairways out of the hostels was kept permanently shut, survivors said.

The casualties include students from across the globe, from Ethiopia to Ecuador, but the largest group are Chinese, with the foreign ministry in Beijing reporting that five had been killed and 17 were missing.

Vietnam said one of its nationals had died, and 10 others were injured.

They would have been enrolling for courses at the Russian Friendship of the Peoples University - the successor to the Communist-era Patrice Lumumba University, which trained foreign engineers and doctors.

Four of the dead may be Russian citizens, local media report, and the casualties also include students from the ex-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan.

The fire swept through one wing of the hostel where 272 students were registered as living at the time.

The dilapidated hostel serves as a quarantine facility for foreign students who have just arrived in Russia and are undergoing medical checks before starting their studies.

'We could do nothing'

Survivors said the fire broke out at about 0200 on Monday (2300 GMT on Sunday) in two rooms on the first floor and spread rapidly to the rest of the building.

Moscow dormitory fire
People were trapped on the upper floors
Some of the sleeping students were poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes. Others suffered spinal or head injuries after leaping from the windows.

"It was like a horrible nightmare," said Abdallah Bong, a student from Chad, as he surveyed the charred building on Monday morning.

"We saw them crying for help and jumping out of the windows and we could do nothing to save them."

Emergency services found 28 bodies inside the building and four outside. One person died on the way to hospital and three died later of their injuries.

Of the remaining injured, 10 were in a "very serious" condition, doctors said on Monday evening, and 47 in a "serious" condition.

Emergency services are said to have identified all but 15 of the bodies recovered but have not released details of the dead specifically.

The home countries given for the dead and injured as a whole are: China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Angola, Ivory Coast, Tahiti, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Peru, Malaysia, Mongolia, India, Nigeria, Tanzania and Sri Lanka, and Palestinians were also included on the list.

The Bangladeshi Ambassador to Moscow, Nazimullah Chaudhury, told the BBC that five out of 12 Bangladeshi students in the hostel were missing in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Russian reports said an unspecified number of Japanese were among the injured.

Communist flagship

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that, according to a preliminary investigation, the fire resulted from a short circuit in a room on the second floor while other reports speak of an accident with a heater.

The number of deaths caused by fire in Russia has increased sharply over the past decade, the BBC's Jonathan Charles reports from Moscow.

He says that low safety standards and buildings in a bad state of repair are almost always to blame.

The hostel was built in 1966 and is one of 12 at the university.

The university itself was founded in 1960 under Nikita Khrushchev and was once a showcase university, where students from poorer nations could receive a subsidised education.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the university was renamed but its buildings have since fallen into disrepair.

The university continues to offer a wide range of courses, as evidenced by its website, and has an annual student population of about 10,000 from more than 114 countries.

Were you caught up in the fire?

Use the form to tell us your experiences, some of which will be published below.

I am a student at that university and this is the second fire in this year. I think this fire is very strange because it happened very fast and if the fire generated in a room why did every room immediately begin burning? I have a compatriot who has died, from Ecuador, and the First Aid was late. I think the Authorities must investigate this deeply because days before there was a bomb alert, but they did not find anything.
Jexy Cobena, Ecuador

I stayed in a similar place just down the road from there in the 90s. We were horrified to find cookers with gas rings constantly alight because the knobs had gone missing. Some floors' kitchens even had their windows open, so if the wind blew up strongly enough and put out the flame, it would only take a smoker to walk into the room to cause a lethal accident. I am surprised it took so long for this to happen.
Raymond Goslitski, Belgium

Not every building is in disrepair at Friendship of the Peoples University. There is, in fact, a brand new dormitory but it seems to be used by students who have already been at the university for some time. The older dorms, especially for foreign students, are in disrepair. The living conditions for these older dorms are very, very utilitarian.
Dan, USA

I am a student studying in that university. Last night we experienced everything. The fire started at around 2.00 am and Russian fire fighters came at a round 3.00 am and only one ambulance came there to help. There was only a small fire in the second floor which could have been easily extinguished. But I believe the rescuers came too late.

The building is a very old one. Built in 1960s with no security, no fire extinguishers and in a horrible condition. The university does lots of advertisements in Mauritius, showing big good rooms with tv, telephone and separate bathrooms and toilets, but when we came here we never saw like this.
Vashish, Mauritius

This university is over-enrolled with authorities not caring about the standards of hostels, they are only interested in money, this is a wake up call to all universities in Russian Federation, students pay a lot of money but they live in very poor conditions, with no one to care, they should make sure that all rooms are properly heated, otherwise this is just a start of many more fires to come.
Chisha, Zambia/Russia

I stayed at Friendship of the Peoples University's international dormitory for several nights in 1999. It is a miracle that more people have not died already - no safety procedures, no fire escapes, possible escape routes chained shut, elevators - the list goes on.
Ben H. Fatherree, US

As an ex/pat who has worked in Moscow for 10 years, this episode sadly comes as no great surprise. The poor level of maintenance not only affects student accommodation, but most residential housing as well. I know of numerous people who have had fires at home caused by faulty electrics. For some reason the local authorities cannot/will not spend money for improvements. I fear that other such incidents will continue to happen. The more international publicity the better, maybe the authorities will start to wake up and do something.
Simon Gibbons, Russia/UK

I was fortunately not involved in this tragic accident, but as a former resident of Moscow student accommodation this was a disaster waiting to happen, not just for students but for ordinary Russian people whose homes are of similar Khrushchev design. Fires are the greatest domestic hazard in Russia due to the lack of maintenance and adequate fire safety precautions. I am just sorry it has taken a tragedy affecting countries across the globe to raise the issue of safety in the Russian home.
Iain, UK

I was not caught up in the fire, but having lived in Russia as a foreign student a year ago, I empathise with those who were affected by the tragic events in Moscow today, and feel deeply for the friends and families of the students who lost their lives. Although the official statement is that the fire was most likely caused by an electrical fault, I do hope that thorough investigation will follow. Anti-foreign sentiment in Russia can be strong, and the death of 32, mostly foreign, students should not be lightly compared to similar fire outbreaks in the past. This event should shed light to the fact that foreign residents, and especially those of non-Caucasian origin, face serious threats living in the country. It is high time Russia dealt seriously with the problem of violence against foreigners. Let us not all turn a blind eye to the problem by denying that this event is not one that deserves immediate and rigorous scrutiny.
Laura, Tanzania

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WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"Since the collapse of Communism, no money has been spent on improving safety standards"



SEE ALSO:
Timeline: Russia
04 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
04 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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