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Russia

64 dead as fire rips through Russian shopping centre, no alarms reported

Investigators have launched a probe into possible negligence and violations of the fire safety rules

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 8:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 10:39pm

With the fire alarms silent and staff reportedly nowhere to be seen, a fire at a shopping centre packed with children and their parents on the first weekend of the school recess killed 64 people in eastern Russia.

The fire at the Winter Cherry mall in Kemerovo, a city in Siberia, about 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) east of Moscow, was extinguished by Monday morning after burning through the night. Firefighters were still recovering bodies as parts of the buildings were still smouldering. Some of the dead were found inside a cinema.

Sixty-four deaths were confirmed after the firefighters finished combing through the four floors of the mall, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said.

Six of the bodies have not yet been recovered. Puchkov would not immediately say how many of the victims were children.

Ten people have been hospitalised. Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, who visited the Keremovo hospital where the victims were receiving treatment, said that the patient in the gravest condition was an 11-year-old boy who jumped out of a window from the fourth floor. The boy’s parents and younger brother died in the fire, Skvortsova said.

The Investigative Committee said it has detained four people for questioning, including one of the mall’s tenants, but would not immediately give the cause of the fire, which started on the top floor on Sunday evening.

The investigators have launched a probe into possible negligence and violations of the fire safety rules.

Witness testimony indicated that the fire alarm did not go off and that staff did not arrange for the evacuation at the shopping mall, which was converted from a former confectionery factory in 2013.

Winter Cherry was one of Kemerovo’s most popular entertainment centres for children, with its own indoor skating rink, petting zoo and trampolines.

Kemerovo residents said the mall was packed with children and their parents.

The Ekho Mosvky radio station on Monday quoted witnesses who said the fire alarm did not go off and that the mall’s staff did not organise the evacuation.

Anna Zarechneva who was on the top floor where the fire started, watching a movie with her husband and son, said they only found out about the fire when a man ran into the theatre shouting.

“We didn’t hear the fire alarm, they even didn’t turn on the light during the show,” she said. “That movie could have been the last for us, I’ve only just realised that.”

Zarechneva said her husband stayed upstairs trying to help arrange the evacuation because the mall’s security and staff were nowhere to be seen.

It was the deadliest blaze in Russia in recent years.

A shopping mall fire in March 2015 killed 11 people in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan some 800 kilometres east of Moscow.

In April 2013, a fire ravaged a psychiatric hospital in the Moscow region, killing 38 people, most of them patients who were engulfed by flames as they slept behind barred windows.

Just months later, in September 2013, 37 people were killed when a fire swept through a psychiatric hospital in the village of Luka in northwest Russia.

In 2009, 156 were killed in a nightclub fire in the city of Perm, 1,200 kilometres east of Moscow in one of the deadliest accidents in Russia’s modern history.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse