By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
PRAGUE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Authorities in the Czech Republic have detained two men for their alleged involvement in a deadly wave of alcohol poisoning that killed at least 19 people and injured 24 others.
Czech police inspect kiosks, markets, cafes and restaurants amid fears the death toll will climb in what the the country’s deadliest scandal in years.
Police officers have raided hundreds of outlets nationwide, reporting 70 cases of illegal alcohol so far. The dozens of victims were all drinking cheap vodka and rum laced with methanol, a toxic substance used to stretch alcohol on the black market, to guarantee high profits for manufacturers.
Those who survived were blinded or induced into comas in hope that doctors can save them.
Officials said two men, aged 46 and 47, were detained as inspectors found 500 bottles and several barrels of illicit booze in a garage-turned warehouse in the eastern city of Zlin.
Methanol tests were to be conducted soon.
However Health Minister Leos Heger already said a majority of alcohol samples taken elsewhere contained dangerous levels of methanol that is mainly used for industrial purposes.
“We can confirm that people died or were injured due to alcohol poisoning,” he told reporters. “Authorities now want to ensure that what people drink is not dangerous.”
That help comes to late for Josefa Skupienova whose daughter died after drinking poisoned alcohol. “My daughter already died of alcohol poisoning. I am very upset about this,” Skupienova said, her voice trembling of emotion.
“People can do nothing for me, she can never be replaced.”
Outside the Czech Republic, two reportedly died in neighboring Poland and one more in Slovakia.
Czech coroners are also considering to order autopsies on around 150 people who died recently but were not tested for methanol poisoning, Czech media reported.
The case has underscored that the economic crisis is impacting the alcohol sector as in poorer areas people seek cheaper options from often unknown manufacturers in what is the world’s most beer-drinking nation.
Yet, outbreaks of alcohol poisoning on this scale are rare in Europe. In Serbia, 43 people died in 1998 from illegally-made plum brandy and a man was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, media reported.