Grief at the Jilin slaughterhouse: 'The fire was about to swallow me'

Anguished relatives wait for news of loved ones as survivors tell horrific stories of how blaze ripped through poultry plant, killing trapped workers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 8:41am

Feng Xiufang was skinning the necks of poultry on the processing line early on Monday morning when she heard a supervisor yell out, telling everyone to flee the slaughterhouse.

In the next minute, all the lights went off and Feng saw a fireball and thick smoke burst into the No 2 workshop as she fled through a connecting door into the adjacent refrigerated warehouse and out to safety.

"I don't know how come I'm still alive as I felt like the fire behind me was about to swallow me," she said.

"I probably just got lucky to be working in a section close to the refrigerator door."

Feng, 51, is among the dozens of workers - out of about 300 - who survived the deadly blaze that engulfed the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Co slaughterhouse in the town of Mishazi, Jilin province, on Monday. The death toll stood at 119 at midday yesterday, according to an official account.

Many of the other workers had not been as lucky as Feng, she said, because there was too little time for them to make it to the refrigerator door to escape.

She said the other workshop doors were locked from the outside during working hours.

She said staff in the No 1 workshop, where the fire started, faced a similar situation and she did not know how many had survived.

After entering the main entrance of the slaughterhouse for their shift, staff changed in the locker room and then walked down a long corridor before entering the poultry processing workshop, Feng said.

All the doors were locked behind them until the lunch break, and were locked again after lunch until the end of the shift. Feng, who has worked at the slaughterhouse for three years, said the workers had never received any instruction on fire safety issues and that if they had, the death toll would have been lower.

Recalling her escape, she said that at first she had not noticed her body was covered with drops of melted plastic from the roof.

Nor did she feel the pain in her head and waist due to the injuries she sustained in her rush to get out of the building.

The hardest thing for her now was to stop thinking about the nightmare of Monday morning.

"I'll never forget the workers banging the metal doors from inside and yelling for help and then the banging gradually dying out."