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Prato factory-fire deaths spur manslaughter probe

Suspects hard to find in web of Chinese-owned businesses

02 December, 17:24
Prato factory-fire deaths spur manslaughter probe (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Prato, December 2 - Prosecutors in the central Italian city of Prato were preparing a manslaughter investigation Monday after a fire at a Chinese-owned clothing factory killed at least seven workers a day earlier. Police said several suspects likely faced charges for the blaze that struck in the early hours of Sunday as 11 workers slept inside the Teresa Moda factory dormitory outside the center of Prato, near Florence. Meanwhile rescuers continued to search for survivors beneath the rubble of the collapsed roof. Two were still in critical condition Monday.

Among those sleeping in the dormitory when the fire erupted was a child, described as just a few years old by police. Investigators believe a makeshift kitchen with many electric stoves was to blame. Firefighters were alerted to the weekend blaze by an off-duty policeman who saw smoke and heard screams as he drove by. "I got out and saw there were some Chinese people coming toward me crying and screaming. "I ran to the warehouse and saw a Chinese man with a fire extinguisher trying to put out the flames. "So I took an extinguisher too. "He was worn out, also due to the cold, and I kept hearing the screams. "One woman was completely black from the smoke". With roughly 40,000 textile factories in the area, Prato hosts the largest clothing district in Italy, one whose complicated structure has slowed down investigators of the deadly fire. "It still isn't clear exactly who the managers are (of the Teresa Moda factory)," said Prato chief Prosecutor Piero Tony. "Most companies in the area are organized like this. It's the Wild West". Many of Prato's thousands of textile workers reside and work in Italy illegally. Officials shut down numerous factories every year for worker and safety violations. "In four years we've seized 600 warehouses," said prosecutor Tony. According to the labor ministry, in the first nine months of 2013, 76% of Prato's clothing factories were cited at some point for various infractions. Labor Minister Enrico Giovannini said at a press conference that Prato hosts "many more" undocumented workers than the average Italian city. Critics say it's easy for companies shut down by the government to reopen under a different name without implementing the proper changes. Tuscany Governor Enrico Rossi said greater involvement from China was needed to prevent and crack down on businesses in the area that violate the law and allow for disasters such as the weekend fire. "The Chinese government must be called upon both to establish new crime-fighting accords, and to better combine efforts in overseeing how visas are handed out in China in order to prevent undocumented workers," he said.

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