Nineteen people were killed Sunday in a fire that broke out in a home for the elderly and handicapped in southern Italy.

The fire began after midnight while the residents of the nursing home were asleep. Italian fire fighters said 11 men and eight women died in the blaze. They included elderly people and some with serious mental disabilities. Fire officials said they suffocated from the smoke. Many of them were found dead in their beds.

The fire is believed to have been accidental and caused by an electrical short circuit. It spread quickly, fed by the strong winds during the night. Rescue efforts were difficult, and fire fighters said the blaze destroyed the home's three prefabricated buildings before they reached the scene. Ten people, including two members of the medical staff, survived.

The state-run nursing home is located near the town of Buccino, about 150 kilometers southeast of Naples. It was a gift from France after a disastrous earthquake hit the area in 1980. The town priest said the residents were provided with good care at the center and were preparing to celebrate the coming Christmas festivities.