Christmas party in China turns deadly

A Christmas party at an unlicensed disco is the site of a tragic fire that kills more than 300 people in Luoyang, China, on this day in 2000. It was the deadliest fire in China since a December 1994 fire in a Xinjiang concert hall killed 324 people.

In the center of Luoyang, which is located near the Yellow River in Henan province, a dance hall on the top floor of a shopping center served as the site of Christmas party. Although Christmas is not an official holiday in China, it is celebrated by a significant number of Chinese. The shopping center was undergoing construction work during the day and it is thought that a fire broke out in the basement early in the evening, even before some of the party guests had arrived.

The fire went unnoticed until it was raging out of control. When the partygoers finally became aware of the danger just after 9:30 p.m., chaos and panic ensued. First, exits were blocked by larges boxes of merchandise. The elevators lost power and were thus inoperable. The emergency exit to the roof was locked. Another emergency exit filled with thick black smoke and could not be used. The best escape route was an emergency exit located behind the bar, but apparently very few people at the party knew of its existence. In the end, only 12 people of the more than 300 attendees survived.

The survivors included a handful of people who jumped to safety from windows to mats below. However, the windows were too small for most of the people to fit through. The vast majority of the 309 official deaths were caused by smoke inhalation and suffocation. The fire was not controlled by firefighters until the next morning. Some believe that the death toll may have actually been as high as 500, but that authorities kept the number lower because they had failed to properly enforced safety regulations.

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