PRAGUE (AP) - The Czech Republic announced emergency measures Wednesday to combat a wave of alcohol poisoning, saying that 19 people have died and 24 have been hospitalized after drinking vodka and rum laced with methanol.
Methanol is mainly used for industrial purposes but since it’s cheap and impossible to distinguish from real drinking alcohol criminals sometimes stretch black market alcohol with it to guarantee high profits.
Prime Minister Petr Necas urged all Czechs to refrain from drinking “any alcohol whose origin is uncertain” but authorities still feared the death toll will rise.
Of the 16 people confirmed dead in the Czech Republic, eight lived in country’s depressed northeast; two others died in neighboring Poland and one more in Slovakia, police said. Some of the victims have been blinded. Others have been induced into comas in the hope that doctors can save them.
Senior police official Vaclav Kucera said all the cases so far are likely connected and two suspects have been arrested, one in the eastern city of Zlin and another in the northeastern city of Havirov.
Police have raided over 400 kiosks and markets nationwide and found that about 70 of them were selling illegal alcohol.
Igor Dvoracek, a doctor in the eastern city of Ostrava, said autopsies might be done on about 150 other people who have died in recent weeks to see if they were also victims.