Investigators act to douse rumours of higher toll
A government taskforce set up to investigate the Luoyang disaster said yesterday that, contrary to some reports, more than 60 people had escaped the inferno.
A total of 309 died on Christmas Day in a disco in Luoyang, Henan province, after fire erupted in the lower basement of the Dongdu Commercial Building.
The taskforce confirmed the death toll in a statement, ending speculation that more people had died in Monday night's fire.
Led by the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Supervision and the All China Federation of Trade Unions, the group was formed on Tuesday morning. It is headed by Shi Wanpeng, deputy director of the State Economic and Trade Commission.
Officials said yesterday that seven people had been sent to hospital. One had already been discharged while the others are said to be in stable condition.
Xinhua's online edition said the death toll was confirmed after a second check and 'clean-up' of the building yesterday. Officials have not mentioned compensation for the injured or the victims' families.
Officials said an emergency meeting had been called on Tuesday for those in charge of work units and residential blocks of the victims. They said the officials had been asked to help victims' families and ensure social stability. Xinhua confirmed that the lack of fire-prevention equipment and blocked exits had led to the high death toll, as most victims died from smoke inhalation when they tried to fight their way out.
Witnesses said Luoyang officials, including the mayor and vice-mayor, had visited two city hotels to apologise to the relatives of those killed.
Some Luoyang residents said the entire city was in mourning.
One resident said the old quarter where the blaze broke out was a close-knit community where 'everyone knows everyone else'.
Most people had the disaster at the top of their minds, said one resident and newspapers providing details of the inferno were sold out in a few hours. People watched television for the latest investigation reports for hours on end.
Luoyang officials have tightened security around the site, with police preventing onlookers from getting close to the building.
Through the local media, residents have been warned not to believe 'rumours', said one resident.
Rumours were rife in the city that there had been a much higher death toll than reported and that the fire had been the work of arsonists.
At the Yuanshan funeral home where the bodies lay, security was also tight. Doors were closed and reporters prohibited, said the Nanfang Daily.