Sunday 17 November 2019

‘No alarms sounded’ in Russian shopping mall fire horror

The blaze at Siberia’s Winter Cherry mall broke out on Sunday night on the first weekend of the school holidays.

The leisure centre was said to be packed with children and their families (AP)
The leisure centre was said to be packed with children and their families (AP)

By Nataliya Vasilyeva

A fire at a shopping mall packed with children and their parents on the first weekend of the school holidays has killed 64 people in eastern Russia.

Fire alarms had not sounded, and staff were reportedly nowhere to be seen as the blaze took hold at the Winter Cherry mall in Kemerovo, a city in Siberia, about 1,900 miles east of Moscow, according to witnesses.

The fire was extinguished by Monday morning after burning through the night. Firefighters are still recovering bodies as parts of the buildings are still smouldering. Some of the dead were found inside a cinema.

Investigators said emergency exits were blocked and a security guard turned off the public announcement system when he received a call about the blaze.

On Monday morning, Kemerovo residents brought flowers, candles and stuffed animals to a plaza outside the mall, and local hospitals reported an influx of people wanting to donate blood for the victims.

Sixty-four deaths were confirmed after the firefighters finished combing through the four floors of the mall, emergency situations minister Vladimir Puchkov told a televised briefing.

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

PA Graphics)

Ten people have been taken to hospital. Health minister Veronika Skvortsova, who visited the Keremovo hospital where the victims were receiving treatment, said that one patient is 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.

The Investigative Committee said it has detained four people for questioning, including one of the mall’s tenants. There is no word yet on how the fire started, though it is known to have begun on the top floor on Sunday evening.

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

People lay flowers for the victims of the fire (AP)

Witness testimony indicates that the fire alarm did not go off and that staff did not arrange for the evacuation of the shopping mall, which was 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.

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.

A group of firefighters at the scene of the tragedy (AP)

“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.”

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

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