Huge fire causes extensive damage to Istanbul airport, disrupts flights

A huge fire quickly engulfed the cargo section of Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport Wednesday, destroying most of the building and forcing about 2,000 workers to flee, authorities said.

Thick, black smoke from the blaze forced the closure of one of the airport's runways, causing flight delays. Three people suffered smoke inhalation, but no one was killed, authorities said.

The fire destroyed much of the cargo stored in the building, including textile products and gold shipments, officials said. They said they would need more time to estimate the damage, but that it would likely total millions of dollars.

An airport official also confirmed that the body of a Malaysian citizen, which was to be repatriated, was in the cargo area before the fire, but said he did not know whether it had been sent already, or whether it was burned in the fire.

"We know that the body of a Malaysian citizen was brought here to be sent to his country, but because the area has not been investigated we can't say anything definite," Vedat Mutfuoglu said. He said inspectors could not enter the area because it remained too hot, and some 15 firefighters were expected to work through the night to help cool it off.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen from more than 10 kilometers (six miles) away.

"Our biggest consolation is there is no loss of life," said Mujdat Yucel, manager of the Havas cargo and ground services company.

Planes from the municipality filled their hulls with six tons of water at a time from the nearby Marmara Sea and made dozens of trips to drop it on the blaze, flying low and at an angle to avoid a Turkish Airlines building nearby before dumping the sea water on the fire.

Authorities ruled out terrorism or sabotage and gave various possible causes for the fire, including a spark from a welder's torch or an electrical short-circuit. The fire began in a section where fuel depots were located, reports AP.