A massive fire swept through a busy Russian shopping centre packed with children and their parents on Sunday leaving at least 64 people dead. There are many feared to be still missing. The fire at the Winter Cherry mall in Kemerovo, a city about 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) east of Moscow, was extinguished today morning after burning through the night.
Russian investigators present on site said emergency exits were blocked off and a security guard turned off the public announcement system when he received a call about the blaze.
Here’s what we know so far.
How did the shopping mall caught fire?
With the fire alarms silent and staff reportedly nowhere to be seen, the fire broke out at about 17:00 (10:00 GMT) on Sunday and the building continued smouldering even a day later. Some 660 emergency personnel were deployed in the rescue effort. The blaze started on an upper floor of the Winter Cherry complex on Sunday. The cause wasn’t immediately known but a criminal investigation was begun.
Witness testimony reported by AP points to the fact 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.
Who are the victims?
Of 64 dead bodies only 17 people have been identified. Six are reportedly still missing. The count of number of children was not immediately known, said Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov. According to Russia’s ministry of health, about 40 people were treated at the site, and at least 10 others were hospitalized. Some 200 animals are also believed to have died in the mall’s petting zoo. One of the hospitalised victims was a 11-year-old boy who jumped out of a fourth-floor window to escape the fire. He was described by authorities Monday as being in serious condition and emotionally traumatized. A visitor who was on the top floor of the mall watching a movie said, they only found out about the fire when a man ran into the theater shouting.
What were the actions taken?
A criminal investigation has been opened for possible negligence and violation of fire safety requirements. The Investigative Committee said it has detained four people for questioning, including one of the mall’s tenants. 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. The country’s top investigative body said they are searching for a security officer who appears to have turned off the PA system when he received a call about the blaze.
At the time of writing the report, four people have been detained in connection with the deadly, fire including one of the mall’s tenants. While the investigators haven’t yet given the exact cause of the blaze, they have obtained evidence proving “flagrant violations” that could have contributed to the heavy loss of life, including the fact that the fire escapes were blocked. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told AP it was too early to draw conclusions about whether local officials failed in Kemerovo.
Previous fire incidents in Russia
The blaze in Kemerovo underscored an appalling record of fire safety in Russia in recent years. In 2015, around 61 people were injured and 19 killed at a mall in Kazan. In 2009, fire at a nightclub in perm killed 153. A fire at a nursing home took lives 63 people at a nursing home in Krasnodar. In 2003, a fire in student dorm at a Moscow university killed 44 and injured 156.