Many people killed in strong explosion that rocked eastern suburb of commercial city Yangon [Reuters]

At least 17 people have been killed and about 80 others injured in an early morning fire at an industrial district in an eastern suburb of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, police have said.

A police officer said 12 men and five women had been confirmed dead on Thursday, Reuters news agency reported, adding that the death toll could go up.

Officials say the fire started in a state-owned warehouse before dawn and quickly spread to homes and buildings, many of them made of wood.

A hospital official said the dead included at least one firefighter who was killed by the explosion when they were putting out the fire.

Firefighters continue to search for bodies, as the blaze was reported to have spread to a nearby shipyard and factories.

They battled through the night to put the fire out, finally succeeding at around 6:45am local time (21:45 GMT on Wednesday).

Television pictures showed rescue teams carrying casualties on stretchers in the middle of the night around what appeared to be badly damaged buildings.

Massive crater created

The shock from the loud explosion in the area was felt by many people in eastern and central Yangon. The blast created a crater that was at least 10 metres wide and several metres deep, filled with ash and debris.

One resident, Khin Hla Kyi, said she feared for her life as she fled the encroaching fire, which devoured her home and all of her possessions. "We had to run for our lives," she told the AFP news agency. "Now we have nowhere to go. My house was destroyed."

The police did not make any comment on the cause of the disaster, saying only that it was not caused by a bomb blast.

Last Wednesday, a woman was killed and another injured when what was described as a bomb exploded in a public
toilet near the main campus of Yangon University.

Source: Agencies