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8 Die, 200 Hurt in Netherlands Fire

January 1, 2001

VOLENDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Christmas decorations in a packed party hall caught fire Monday, killing at least eight people and injuring about 200 others as New Year’s revelers trampled each other and leaped from the third floor to flee the mayhem.

The fire started shortly after midnight when about 700 people were heralding the new year at a three-story bar complex inside a row of old wooden houses in Volendam, a picturesque fishing village about 13 miles northeast of Amsterdam on the inland IJsselmeer sea.

Teen-age partygoers jumped from the windows to flee billowing clouds of smoke that instantly engulfed the Little Heaven cafe on the top floor, reports said.

A Dutch TV correspondent said unconscious victims were pulled out of windows by their hair.

Burn treatment centers were strained to capacity, as ambulances and helicopters ferried some 90 seriously injured victims to hospitals across eastern Netherlands.

Mayor Frank IJsselmuiden said a dozen critical cases were flown to hospitals in neighboring Belgium and Germany. Doctors at a trauma center near Amsterdam said scores of people were being treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation and the death toll could rise as high as 20.

``It was like warfare, people screaming and trampling over each other to get out,″ said Henk Jong, who ran out of a bar around the corner to help a woman with bloodied hands who was looking for her children.

``The people I saw will be scarred for the rest of their lives,″ he told The Associated Press. ``They were maimed and burned _ a woman without an ear and her hair burned off, and a boy without skin on his arms.″

The mayor told an afternoon news conference that the fire originated in a set of Christmas decorations covering the ceiling and that the crowd panicked because all but one of the emergency exits were blocked.

``It was a night of terror,″ IJsselmuiden told Dutch television earlier. ``I saw disoriented youngsters with fear in their eyes. I watched as one of those youngsters died″ while rescue workers tried to resuscitate him.

The mayor said most of the victims were between 16 and 22 years old, but refused to confirm accounts that some minors were in the bar. The minimum drinking age for beer in the Netherlands is 16.

Police said they had begun preliminary investigations.

Witnesses reported hearing explosions and seeing partygoers taking live fireworks inside the cafe, which was decked with holiday lights and pine branches.

``I was partying together with my mates, and all of the sudden, boom! In one second, everything vanished. You couldn’t see a thing,″ one reveler told national Radio 1.

Firefighting crews were called in from around the region in response to a 12:30 a.m. alarm. The blaze was quickly brought under control.

The inferno reminded many of the May 13 fireworks storehouse blast in the eastern city of Enschede that killed some 20 people, injured 1,000 and wiped out an entire neighborhood.

Questions were raised about the safety of locating three separate party establishments one on top of the other in the old wooden structures on the quay.

``This shouldn’t have happened,″ said 70-year-old Kees Tol as he walked over charred pieces of fireworks in the melting snow to survey the boarded building.

The mayor said all cafes in the town had recently been inspected for fire code violations.

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