July 13, 2005

Costa Rica clinic fire toll rises, safety slammed

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rican emergency
workers on Wednesday criticized inadequate safety measures at a
hospital gutted by fire earlier this week, as the death toll
from the deadly blaze rose to 19.

The fire broke out on Tuesday at the Rafael Angel Calderon
Guardia Hospital in San Jose, trapping critically ill patients
and nurses in the neurosurgery and intensive care wards on the
clinic's upper floors.

Emergency workers found the body of a patient in the
charred ruins of the hospital on Wednesday, taking the death
toll to 16 patients and three nurses.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the deadly
blaze. But firemen criticized "shortcomings" in emergency plans
at the out-of-date hospital, which had no fire escapes,
emergency lighting or smoke alarms.

The fire shocked residents of San Jose, who watched as
elderly and critically ill patients called for help from
windows and balconies as fire raged through the hospital.

Some were rescued by volunteers with ladders. Others
shinned down knotted sheets to escape the flames, which swept
through the top two floors of the five-story clinic.

The Red Cross said 116 patients were evacuated to other
hospitals, while the government declared three days of mourning
and a state of emergency throughout the Central American
nation's hospital network.

Costa Rica is the richest nation in Central America with an
economy based on tourism and coffee exports.