International News

64 dead in fatal Russian shopping mall inferno

A total of 64 people some of them children perished in a fire that ravaged a busy shopping mall in an industrial city in Siberia, as rescue teams Monday struggled through piles of charred rubble to recover bodies.
Russian television showed images of thick black smoke pouring out of the Winter Cherry shopping centre in the city of Kemerovo, which also houses a sauna, a bowling alley and a multiplex cinema and was packed with people on Sunday afternoon.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said the roof collapsed in two theatres in the cinema in the blaze which erupted at around 4pm (0900 GMT).
Witnesses told Russian television that some did not hear alarms or did not take them seriously and that the fire took hold very quickly, leaving many children separated from their parents.
“The alarm system didn’t work, people ran out screaming and in panic,” said a teenager, Milena, who had visited the mall with her parents.
Emergency services minister Vladimir Puchkov said on Russian television: “We have recorded that unfortunately as a result of the accident 64 people died”, up from a previous toll of 56.
He said “64 is the final figure”, and included six people still buried under the rubble.
The preliminary findings of an inquiry said the fire started in one of the cinemas and destroyed more than 1,000 square metres (1,200 square yards) of the centre, news agencies reported.
The local office of Russia’s emergency services ministry said the fire broke out on the top floor of the four-storey mall, causing floors and the roof to collapse.
One witness, Anastasia Klepova, told Rossiya 24 television: “The evacuation signal only went off twice. We didn’t believe in the evacuation at first, we thought maybe rubbish had caught fire in the toilet.”
“We emerged out of darkness and smoke. We were already all black. In two or three minutes, such smoke had risen up.”
Witnesses said many children were separated from adults, after coming to enjoy facilities including a trampoline centre.