Fire at centre for disabled people kills 14

One report says fire followed a loud explosion in storage room of the workshop run by Caritas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 4:51am

A fire broke out yesterday at a workshop for disabled people in southwestern Germany, killing at least 14 people, authorities said.

The centre, in Titisee-Neustadt, a town in the Black Forest near the city of Freiburg, employs some 120 people with either mental of physical disabilities in a variety of jobs including metalwork, woodwork and electrical installation, according to the facility's website.

There are usually 100 to 120 people in the building at any one time, police spokesman Karl-Heinz Schmid told Suedwestrundfunk radio.

The facility is run by the Catholic Church's Caritas organisation.

The town's mayor Armin Hinterseh said the center's buildings were quite new. "It is devastating. We now have to find out how it happened," he was quoted as saying by local daily Badische Zeitung.

Schmid told rolling news channel N24: "We can tell you that we have 14 dead. The process of identification is ongoing."

"We also have a large number of injured who have been taken to hospital," said Schmid, adding it was too early to determine how serious the injuries were.

"We are not in a position to say what the cause of the accident was," Schmid said, although local news agency DPA quoted a source as saying there had been an explosion in a storage room.

It was still unclear whether chemicals were stored in the room, but the workshop activities include the treatment of wood.

Police said there were no indications that it was a case of arson.

Automatic fire alarms had alerted the brigade, which had deployed around a hundred firemen. Several helicopters were also involved in the rescue operation. "The fire is under control now," a fire brigade spokesman said. Dozens of ambulance workers were at the scene. Psychological specialists were treating relatives of the victims at the scene, according to DPA.

"We are dealing here with people who of course do not react rationally," it quoted local fire chief Alexander Widmaier as saying.

Flames and smoke were said to be seen pouring from the centre hours after the fire broke out, while firefighters entered the burning building in breathing apparatus to rescue people trapped inside.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters