Shanghai officials take blame for fire

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 November, 2010, 12:00am

Shanghai officials for the first time admitted culpability for the lax safety standards that resulted in last week's deadly fire, which razed an entire residential building.

Mayor Han Zheng acknowledged that blame rested on him and Shanghai Communist Party secretary Yu Zhengsheng .

'Comrade Zhengsheng and I are of the same opinion: the chaotic situation in the Shanghai construction market and weak supervision caused the giant '11-15' fire accident,' Han said. 'Because of this, we have a responsibility that cannot be shirked.

'We feel deeply guilty and blame ourselves.'

His remarks - made at a meeting of the municipal government yesterday morning but released in a statement last night - came after tens of thousands of people showed up on Sunday to mourn those who died in the fire.

A week ago, the city was stunned by the blaze in the 28-storey building. At least 58 people died in the fire and 126 were injured, 16 of whom remained in serious condition in hospital yesterday.

The blaze was started by welders working on a scaffolding on the 10th floor but within minutes it engulfed the entire building and took firefighters more than four hours to bring it under control.

Workers had been retrofitting the building with external insulation as part of a government pilot scheme to boost energy efficiency in the district.

Investigators identified the highly flammable polyurethane foam insulation as one of the causes of the fire's rapid spread.

In his report to the municipal government, Han called on various departments to learn the 'painful lesson' from the disaster and proposed that November 15 be designated a 'city public safety day' to commemorate the event.

He said a citywide campaign on fire safety had been launched in response to the tragedy but conceded that much work remained to be done.

'In the current circumstances, certain relevant departments are lacking in knowledge and are not working hard enough,' he said.

Tens of thousands of residents turned out to pay their last respects at the disaster site on Sunday in a rare mass public expression of grief.

White and yellow carnations were placed on the street in front of the charred building, which has been closed to traffic and has drawn large crowds since the tragedy.