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Fire burning in Nevskaya Manufaktura building, emergency vehicles on Neva river's bank

A huge fire was burning in a historic factory in Russia's second city Saint Petersburg on Monday, sending clouds of black smoke over the city.

The emergencies ministry said the fire had broken out over several floors of the red-brick Nevskaya Manufaktura building on the Oktyabrskaya Embankment of the Neva River.

Forty people had been evacuated, while two firefighters had been hospitalised and contact lost with another one, the ministry said.

The enormous factory, founded as a cloth manufacturer in 1841, was engulfed in flames, AFP journalists at the scene said.

The factory was nationalised and run as a state entity during the Soviet period, then privatised in 1992.

In recent years parts of the building continued to operate manufacturing cloth, while others were rented out as office space and some areas had been abandoned.