A fire at a psychiatric clinic in Osaka, Japan, has killed at least 27 people. The blaze broke out at around 10 am (local time) on the fourth floor of a building in Kitashinchi, a well-known shopping and entertainment district, and was extinguished half an hour later by firefighters. The 27 people, 17 men and 10 women, were taken out of the building wrapped in blue blankets and with no signs of life.

An official spoke of “cardiorespiratory arrest,” a common term in Japan used before death is officially confirmed. At least 20 had already been pronounced dead at the hospital by late afternoon, the Asahi television network reported. A doctor at the hospital to which the bodies were sent has claimed that most died from carbon monoxide inhalation.

The victims, hospital patients

Television pictures showed a string of fire trucks and numerous bystanders in front of the building as plumes of smoke billowed from fourth-floor windows. The property also contains a beauty salon, a clothing store and an English language school. The victims, according to initial investigations, were patients of the clinic, which treats mental problems such as depression and panic attacks.

Initial indications point to arson, according to the Kyodo news agency. Suspicions center on a man in his 60s who was seen by witnesses holding a bag from which an unidentified liquid was emanating. The fire reportedly started shortly after he left the bag at the clinic’s reception desk, a witness said. The man, according to the Mainichi newspaper, was a patient at the clinic.

Public safety in Japan

Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, with very low crime rates, but it is no stranger to misfortunes similar to this morning. A fire at an animation studio in Kyoto two years ago left 36 dead and 33 injured in what was one of the country’s worst mass murders in recent decades. The culprit, Shinji Aoba, was charged with arson and murder. In another attack carried out in a famous Tokyo entertainment area in 2001, 44 people were killed without the perpetrator being found.

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