Doubts over official death toll of 25 in karaoke bar blast

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am

Locals say as many as 50 may have died in explosion

Doubts have surfaced about the death toll in an explosion at a karaoke parlour in Tianshifu, Liaoning province , as some reports yesterday linked the blast to illegally stored explosives.

Dozens of young people, most of them revellers in the crowded karaoke parlour, were killed by the powerful blast on Wednesday night.

Twenty-five people were killed and more than 40 injured, four of them critically, according to police in Benxi . But many residents in Tianshifu dispute the official death toll, saying there could have been up to 50 fatalities.

A Ms Lan, whose 27-year-old daughter, Jin Wei , was killed during a karaoke session with friends, said all of her daughter's nine friends were killed and only four of another group of 17 young people having a birthday celebration survived the explosion.

Ms Lan said there must also have been deaths among patrons at the complex's public bathhouse and mahjong gambling parlour, as well as among its serving staff and women providing escort services.

Amid the piles of rubble and fallen concrete, shocked township residents tried to go about their lives. Hundreds mourned dead family members at a morgue in Xiaoshi county, near Tianshifu, under the watch of dozens of police officers.

Ma Bo , whose 22-year-old daughter was killed at the birthday celebration, said she could not believe her daughter was dead, 'because I just saw her off to work in the morning'.

'How could the government allow this to happen?' the distraught mother kept asking in front of a makeshift shrine.

Police investigators have offered few updates on the explosion since Thursday night, and there has been no official conclusion about the cause of the blast.

The club's owner, Qu Hua , was believed to have stored explosives in a vault beneath the two-storey complex. It was reduced to rubble by the blast, which also caused widespread damage to nearby buildings.

The TNT explosives were made at a nearby factory. Police also found detonators at the site, reports quoted investigators as saying.

Witnesses said police dug out several boxes of dynamite yesterday morning from beneath the rubble and suggested that, from the extent of the damage, there could have been three to five tonnes of explosives in the vault.

Residents said it was no secret that explosives were stored illegally in Tianshifu, a coal mining town with 300 to 400 licensed and unlicensed small collieries supporting at least 60 per cent of its population.

They said explosives were seen being loaded and unloaded in front of the entertainment complex in the past, but the authorities had done nothing about it.

Qu, a wealthy businessman who owned several coal mines in Benxi county, was believed to have died in the blast. Police held his wife and several waiters from the venue for questioning shortly after the explosion.

But Ms Lan said the government could not shirk its responsibility for failing to prevent the misuse and mishandling of explosives. She said the authorities had yet to contact her to discuss the blast, but she and other families of those killed were receiving 500 yuan a day from official sources as tentative compensation.

'But I've lost my only child at the age of 52. How am I going to live the rest of my life, and what do I need money for?' she said, adding that she wanted truth and 'justice served'.