About 300 evacuated because of New Zealand fire

Other News Materials 6 February 2008 10:52 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - About 300 people, or half the population of the small New Zealand town of Patea, were given the all-clear to return to their homes Wednesday night after being evacuated for a day for fear of asbestos contamination from a blazing abandoned abattoir.

Most of the evacuees had been given shelter at an emergency evacuation centre in Hawera, 28 kilometres away, although some refused to leave as dense smoke spread over their houses from 100-year-old buildings lined with asbestos that police said they believe were deliberately set alight the previous night.

Officials did not declare a civil emergency, which would have made evacuation compulsory, saying the health risk was low.

They gave the OK to return at 6 pm (0500 GMT) but recommended residents to keep doors and windows closed during the night and remain inside.

About half the abattoir, which has been closed and derelict for 25 years, was burned to the ground.