Eleven people were killed and 50 injured in a fire yesterday morning at a five-storey commercial building with a hotel in Xiangyang , Hubei , Xinhua reported, citing Fancheng district officials.
Some of the hotel guests formed makeshift ropes with sheets and climbed out windows. Others were seen standing on window ledges, as smoke billowed from rooms.
More than 40 of the 50 rooms in the hotel were occupied at the time, China Central Television reported.
The fire started at about 6am and was brought under control by about 9am. Authorities said the death toll could increase as firefighters combed through the debris.
Local media such as Cnhubei. com reported that the fire started in an internet cafe on the first floor. There was speculation that a short circuit may have been to blame. The ground floor featured mostly small shops.
Neither the district nor city government could be reached for comment.
The owner of a nearby restaurant feared that the toll would rise, given the popularity of the hotel and businesses there. He said people across the city were shocked by the tragedy.
"This area was famous for its food and entertainment," he said. "But now it will be associated with such a gruesome tragedy that claimed so many lives."
Internet cafes are considered to be among the businesses most vulnerable to fire on the mainland, with hot electronics in small spaces that are filled with many customers.
In 2002, a fire at an internet cafe in Beijing killed more than 20 people, mostly students.
An internet cafe owner in Guangzhou said yesterday that a large portion of his budget that should be spent on fire-prevention measures, such as extinguishers and masks, instead went to fire officials who demanded bribes several times a year.
"They aren't happy unless they are paid sufficiently," she said.