BERLIN -- A fire broke out Monday in a workshop that employed dozens of mentally and physically disabled people in southwestern Germany, killing 14 and seriously injuring seven others, officials said.
The police were not able to immediately confirm a report by the local news media that an explosion in a storeroom on the top floor of the facility in Titisee-Neustadt in the Black Forest region had caused the fire. There was also no information on whether chemicals kept in the storage area had been involved.
The workshop was run by the Caritas charity organization and employed about 120 people with various disabilities in jobs that include metal- and woodworking, according to Rainer Gantert, a spokesman for Caritas. Another 20 people were employed at the workshop to provide care and assistance, he said.
"We have no idea how this could have happened," Mr. Gantert said. "We believe that we had met all safety standards and are therefore shocked at what happened."
Some 300 firefighters from across the region and two rescue helicopters were called to the site in an effort to help as many people escape from the flames and poisonous smoke, which could be seen rising in thick, dark columns from the workshop building, television footage showed.
"We have an image of damage such as has never been seen here before," Karl-Heinz Schmid, a spokesman for the Freiburg police, told ARD public television hours after the first firefighters were called to the scene. The police said they believed everyone from the building had been brought to safety by nightfall, but Mr. Schmid said that many questions remained, including how the fire was able to claim so many lives.
"We are still in the chaotic phase where we are trying to figure out exactly what has happened and how severe the damage is," Mr. Schmid said.
Dozens of firefighters wearing gas masks and air tanks crowded around the building. Bright yellow fire hoses snaked between the trucks and a building, and an empty wheelchair stood in the foreground. Emergency workers set up registration points for those brought to safety to ensure that everyone had been accounted for and to offer psychological support to survivors.
Egon Engler, a spokesman for Caritas, told reporters that the workshop would remain closed for several days, pending an investigation into what may have caused the fire, the German news agency DPA reported.
Winfried Kretschmann, governor of Baden-Württemberg state, flew to the scene to survey the damage and offer support to survivors and rescue workers. "I just spoke on the phone with Chancellor Angela Merkel who was left deeply shocked and speechless after these horrific events," DPA quoted Mr. Kretschmann as saying.
Chris Cottrell in Berlin contributed reporting.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.