BEIJING -- At least 74 people, three of them children, were killed in a cinema fire in central China, the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

The agency said 63 males and 11 females died in the blaze, which occurred early Wednesday at the Paradise Cinema in Jiaozuo, a city in the central province of Henan.Police said a lack of safety measures probably led to the high number of deaths, the agency reported without giving further details.

The fire was the latest in a series of catastrophes at public halls in China over the past decade.

In December 1994, 323 people, most of them children, were killed in a concert hall fire in the oil town of Karamay in the western region of Xinjiang.

A month earlier, 233 people were killed in a dance hall fire in the northeastern province of Liaoning, many of them crushed to death or asphyxiated inside emergency exits that were chained shut.

China's worst such fire was in 1977 when 694 people died -- 597 of them children -- in Xinjiang.

Xinhua said the owner of the private cinema in Jiaozuo was seriously injured in the fire and was undergoing emergency surgery at a local hospital.

Eleven people were rescued from the blaze, which took 90 minutes to extinguish, the agency added.

The fire also destroyed a neighboring cinema, it said without elaborating.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze.

"We are making full efforts to investigate the cause of the fire," a police spokesman told Reuters from Jiaozuo.