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Kemerovo fire: Russia crowd condemns officials over disaster

Hundreds of people are protesting in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, angry at Russian officials over the leisure complex fire that killed at least 64 people, 41 of them children.

President Vladimir Putin arrived in Kemerovo earlier and blamed “criminal negligence” for Sunday’s blaze.

Relatives say as many as 85 people are still missing, most of them children, according to Interfax news agency.

Investigators say the fire alarm was switched off and exits were blocked.

Some 300 people rallied outside the local government headquarters on Tuesday, demanding that officials be sacked over the fire safety shortcomings.

Media caption: Firefighters tackle fatal shopping centre blaze

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but Russia’s Investigative Committee has spoken of “serious violations” at the Winter Cherry mall.

A woman in the Kemerovo crowd drew applause when she said “children called their parents, asked them for help, asked for the fire brigades to be sent in”.

Officials were booed when they urged the crowd to disperse, after the protest had already lasted seven hours, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.

Regional deputy governor Sergei Tsivilev then got down on his knees to beg forgiveness, and was applauded by the crowd.

Kemerovo mourners at rally, 27 Mar 18Image copyright: REUTERS
Image caption: Placards read: “How many victims really?”, “Who is really guilty?”, “What’s the cost of you turning a blind eye?”

President Putin also expressed indignation over the disaster – though he did not speak to the crowd.

“What is happening here?” he said, after laying a wreath. “This is no battle or an unexpected methane outburst in a mine.”

“People, children came to relax. We are talking about demography and are losing so many people because of what? Because of criminal negligence, sloppiness.”

What do we know so far?

Sunday’s blaze started on an upper floor of the complex at about 17:00 local time (10:00 GMT).

The mall’s shops, cinema and bowling alley were packed at the time as it was the beginning of the school holiday.

Video on social media showed people jumping from windows to escape.

The Investigative Committee says a fire safety technician at the complex “switched off the alarm system” after being alerted about the fire.

It said a criminal investigation had begun.

Russian emergency service staff work at the site of a fire at a multi-storey shopping centre in Kemerovo on March 27, 2018Image copyright: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Russian emergency service staff work at the site of the fire

Five people have been arrested including the official suspected of deactivating the public address system.

In a Facebook post (in Russian), Kemerovo politician Anton Gorelkin said that “fire exits were shut, turning the complex into a trap” and “there was no organised evacuation”.

He also said a fire extinguisher that could have doused the flames at the start did not work.


‘My path was blocked’

At the scene: Sergei Goryashko and Elizaveta Fokht, BBC Russian

Eight-year-old Darina was having fun at a children’s birthday party in the Winter Cherry leisure complex when the deadly fire broke out.

Her mother Irina often took her there. On Sunday, she had left Darina at the party on the fourth floor while she went down to the second floor to do some shopping.

It was the start of a public holiday and many children were playing upstairs at the critical moment without adults standing by to help.

Irina said that on the second floor people began shouting “fire!”. “I tried to go back up, but my path was blocked, there was a lot of people.”

 


The region’s deputy governor, Vladimir Chernov, said “this is the question: Why were the doors shut?”

Mr Chernov was quoted as saying the fire probably began in the children’s trampoline room.

“The preliminary suspicion is that a child had a cigarette lighter which ignited foam rubber in this trampoline room, and it erupted like gunpowder,” he said.

However, Rossiya 24 TV, a national broadcaster, said an electrical fault was the most likely cause – as in most previous deadly fires in Russia.

Who were the victims?

Interfax news agency has published a list of 41 children among the victims.

As well as those killed, 11 injured victims were being treated in hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation.

The most serious case is an 11-year-old boy whose parents and siblings died in the fire, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said. He reportedly fell from the fourth floor and is in intensive care with multiple injuries.

Map showing location of shopping centre and Kemerovo in relation to Moscow

Officials says 56 bodies have been recovered and the remains of 21 have been released to relatives for burial.

Kemerovo lies about 3,600km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow.

The shopping centre, covering 23,000 sq m (248,000 sq ft), opened in 2013. It includes a petting zoo, all of whose animals are reported to have died.

Russia’s deadliest fires

2009 – 156 people die in a Perm nightclub inferno in the Urals region, Russia’s worst fire in recent years (fireworks and lack of exits blamed)

2007 – Fire engulfs a rural old people’s home in the southern region of Krasnodar, killing 63 (burning cigarette blamed)

2006 – 46 die in Moscow narcological hospital fire (arson blamed)

2003 – A hostel fire at the Russian People’s Friendship University in Moscow kills 44 (lack of safety measures blamed)

1999 – Fire engulfs the police headquarters in the southern city of Samara, killing 57 people (burning cigarette blamed officially, but arson by criminals not ruled out)

Source: Interfax news agency

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