- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WARSAW, POLAND (AP) - The shelter for homeless families where 21 people died in a fire in northwest Poland had building code violations, authorities said Tuesday. The government ordered safety inspections at temporary lodgings across the country.

On the first of three days of national mourning for the victims, construction experts and prosecutors inspected the charred shell of the building in the city of Kamien Pomorski for clues to the cause of a fire that devastated it early Monday.

National fire department spokesman Pawel Fratczak said 21 people were killed and two were unaccounted for, though believed alive.

Mayor Bronislaw Karpinski had said earlier Tuesday that 22 died, but Fratczak said Karpinski did not have full knowledge of findings at the site.

Twenty people were injured, most suffering broken bones after leaping from the three-story building to escape the blaze, and local hospital officials said their condition was improving.

A number of irregularities had already been found in the work of local construction inspectors who allowed people to live in the building despite code violations and did not order any improvements, said Pawel Biedziak, spokesman for the state-run Supreme Auditing Chamber, which monitors adherence to regulations.

Interior Minister Grzegorz Schetyna ordered a detailed check of all shelters in the country.

The government offered 1 million zlotys ($300,000) in immediate aid to survivors of the fire, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk said it would allocate about 4 million zlotys to build a new shelter at a different site.

The building in Kamien Pomorski, about 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of Warsaw, was originally a spartan hotel for workers in the region’s gas fields. Ownership of the building was transferred to the local government a few years ago.

Survivor Emilia Staniszewska said no renovation or adaptations were made when the building was turned into a shelter.

“I went from one official to another with letters saying the house has asbestos elements and is not safe to live in, but no one did anything to change that,” Staniszewska said on TVN24 television.

Fire department spokesman Fratczak said it was the country’s deadliest fire since October 1980, when 55 people were killed in a blaze at a psychiatric hospital in Gorna Grupa in central Poland.

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