7 Migrants Dead in Construction Blaze

Seven construction workers were killed Tuesday in southeastern Moscow when a fire broke out in an underground parking garage where they were being housed illegally, officials said.

The blaze tore through the garage shortly before 11 a.m. on Privolnaya Ulitsa, near Vykhino metro station on the city's southeastern outskirts, emergency officials said.

The fire, which engulfed more than 150 square meters, was extinguished two hours later.

"Seven bodies were retrieved from the garage," said Yevgeny Bobolyov, a spokesman for the Moscow branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry. "All of the men died from smoke inhalation."

All of the victims were migrant workers from Tajikistan, Viktor Klimkin, deputy head of the ministry's Moscow branch, told reporters at the scene.

Calls to the Tajik Embassy in Moscow went unanswered all day Tuesday.

Twenty more people were rescued, two of whom were hospitalized. Investigators were working at the scene to identify the bodies and the cause of the fire.

Several police vans and ambulances remained at the scene of the fire late Tuesday afternoon. Several women of Asian appearance flocked to the gate of the fence surrounding the garage but remained calm.

Local construction companies commonly violate safety regulations by allowing migrant workers to live at construction sites.

Bobolyov said some of the workers were living inside the garage, which is located under a 24-story apartment building. "I saw beds and kitchens there," he said.

An unidentified emergency official was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying that around 100 migrant workers were living in the garage in improvised rooms where electric heaters were used.

But Lyubov Kolchinskaya, a spokeswoman for the construction firm MegaStroiPolis, which is building the apartment complex and garage, denied that any workers were living at the site.

The official City Hall committee for construction oversight examined the site on Dec. 26 and found no safety violations, Kolchinskaya said.

Calls to the committee's press service went unanswered Tuesday afternoon.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement that walls in the garage were made from flammable material in "crude violation of fire safety regulations."

The Federal Migration Service said in a statement Tuesday that it would investigate whether the workers were in the country legally.

Over 17,000 people die in fires each year in Russia, a per capita death rate that is five times higher than that in the United States. Lax fire safety rules and negligence are to blame for many of the deaths. So far this year, 908 people have died in 7,680 fires nationwide, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Staff Writer Alexandra Odynova contributed to this report.