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Homemade alcohol kills 22 Estonians
6:53 AM September 11
Twenty-two people died and at least 36 were hospitalised today after drinking what turned out to be a deadly brew in one of Estonia's worst cases of alcohol poisoning.
Police feared the number of fatalities would rise after receiving new reports of victims who drank what turned out to be highly toxic methyl alcohol.
"When the first people started coming to the hospital yesterday morning, we had no idea the number of deaths would keep growing like this," police spokesman Indrek Raudjalg said today.
The latest deaths occurred today, though most victims consumed the tainted alcohol at the weekend in Parnu, a seaside town of 50,000 some 125 km south of the capital, Tallinn, Raudjalg said.
Hospitals in the close-knit resort area became overwhelmed as the number of victims grew and many were transferred to hospitals in Tallinn, some by helicopter.
Warnings were issued by radio and television for people to avoid drinking alcohol out of suspicious-looking bottles, and the city government set up a crisis centre.
"What has happened here is a catastrophe," Mayor Einar Kelder said on the radio. "The criminality of this... I'm at a loss for words."
The moonshine was reportedly bottled in half-litre (pint) plastic flasks normally used for soft drinks and sold for some 30 kroons ($A3.85); according to Estonia's KUKU radio.
The victims purchased the deadly drinks at different times in recent days but from the same source, Raudjalg said. He said many appeared to be poorer Estonians unable to afford pricier liquor sold in licensed stores.
Steep rises in alcohol costs after this Baltic country of 1.4 million people cast off communism a decade ago have driven many Estonians, with an average monthly salary of about 5,000 kroons ($A578), to opt for illegal varieties.
Police raided several illegal distilleries and four people were detained for questioning, but nobody has been charged.
The toxicity probably occurred inadvertently in the distilling process, police said. Illegal distillers are said to sometimes add the chemical in small quantities to make their brews more potent.
"We don't think those making these spirits wanted to kill their clients," Raudjalg said. "It was probably a mistake, but that's something being investigated."
Samples were being tested to verify the lethal ingredient.
Authorities said fatal alcohol poisonings weren't uncommon in Estonia but usually occurred sporadically each month - not in such large numbers. BNS said 155 such deaths occurred last year.
Methyl alcohol, also called wood alcohol or methanol, can be made synthetically or by distilling wood. It is an ingredient in antifreeze, formaldehyde and many industrial solvents.
The poisonous brew, which also can cause permanent blindness, is annually blamed for hundreds of deaths around the world, including 127 similar deaths in El Salvador last year.
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> Homemade alcohol kills 22 Estonians..............................................victims
> 6:53 AM September 11
> who drank what turned out to be highly toxic methylI think the problem wasn't with the distilling process
> ........ The moonshine was reportedly bottled in
> half-litre (pint) plastic flasks normally used for
> soft drinks
> The toxicity probably occurred
> inadvertently in the distilling process, police
> said. Illegal distillers are said to sometimes add
> the chemical in small quantities to make their brews
> more potent.
but with methanol being added to the finished product
to increase profits.
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