Japan: Explosion and Fire

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41 dead in Tokyo fire

TOKYO (AP) -- An explosion and fire tore through a gambling parlor in a bustling Tokyo nightclub district early Saturday, killing at least 41 people and injuring dozens more, officials said.

Dozens more were injured during the 1 a.m. blaze in the Kabukicho entertainment district -- some were burned and others were hurt when they jumped out of the building to escape the flames.

Television footage showed fire trucks sending firefighters up ladders to reach the building's third and fourth floors, which were ablaze.

The fire was extinguished and a search by rescuers showed that there were no more victims, according to Public broadcaster NHK television.

Fire Department officials said at least 41 people died in the blaze, an increase from initial reports of 21 dead.

Police said earlier that 47 people were hospitalized with injuries, but it wasn't immediately clear if any of them had died and were included in the death toll.

Officials were trying to determine the cause of the explosion and fire, said a spokesman at the Shinjuku police station who would provide only his last name, Masuda.

News reports said that the explosion occurred when an employee of the mahjong parlor where the blast occurred opened the door of the establishment. Mahjong is a popular board game in much of East Asia and sometimes involves gambling.

Kyodo News agency said that building included a number of entertainment shops, including restaurants and sex establishments. It said the blast tore a hole large hole in the side of the building.

Kabukicho is one of Tokyo's busiest nightclub areas and is not far from the city's most crowded train station.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), August 31, 2001

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