Nine dead after Dutch cafe fire

At least nine people were killed and around 130 injured when fire swept through a cafe packed with teenagers celebrating New Year in the Dutch tourist town of Volendam, officials said.

Police said the toll was expected to rise as those burned in the inferno in the harbourside Het Hemeltje cafe - whose name means Small Heaven - died of their injuries.

Mayor Frank Ijsselmuiden told Dutch television nine people had now died. Earlier, officials said seven men and a woman, aged between 17 and 22, perished in the fire, which swept through the third storey of the timbered building in this picturesque town 15 km (10 miles) north of Amsterdam.

Fifteen of the injured were said to be clinging to life and some were sent to specialist burns units in Belgium and Germany.

Police estimated that 70 of the victims suffered light injuries and another 60 were in serious or critical condition. Many were injured as they smashed windows and leaped from the top floor into the dark to escape the flames.

Only one fire exit was open and officials were checking reports that other exits were blocked, Ijsselmuiden told a news conference.

"It was a very intense but short fire," Cor Kwakman, a town spokesman, said. "There was a lot of panic...The smoke was very thick. We heard people were walking over each other."

"Probably blind panic is the reason so many people have been injured. It (the cafe) was crowded," Ijsselmuiden was quoted as saying by Dutch television.

It was unclear what caused the fire, which broke out as up to 700 people celebrated the New Year. All the victims came from Volendam.

An initial investigation showed Christmas decorations attached to the ceiling probably caught fire and dropped onto the teenagers, Ijsselmuiden said.

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