DUSHANBE, Jan 8 (AFP): Thirteen children died early Sunday when a blaze swept through a home for mentally handicapped children in Tajikistan, officials said amid accusations of neglect in the impoverished Central Asian state.
"Thirteen children died and four or five others are missing," a police spokesman told AFP.
Around 100 children between six and 16, most of them with mobility problems, were sleeping in the "Chorbog" ("Four Gardens") children's home in the centre of the Tajik capital Dushanbe when the fire broke out, he said.
Two residents were hospitalised after their rescue and 77 others were found temporary lodgings elsewhere in the city, the spokesman said.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov expressed his condolences and called for an inquiry into the fire as officials announced a criminal investigation had been opened.
Locals braved the overnight blaze to find and carry out the disabled children, many wearing only nightclothes without overcoats, into the freezing night.
"It was terrible. It was dark and we had to run through the rooms looking for children. I managed to get six children aged between six and eight out," said Martin, 27, a security guard who was on duty nearby.
"We had to take them out in our arms... There were awful screams," said Martin, who declined to give his surname.
The head of Tajikistan's fire service said the blaze was caused by an overloading of the electrical system of the one-storey orphanage, and that its management was already being investigated for not following fire safety regulations.