Moscow March 26: Scores of children are feared to be among at least 64 people killed in a fire that swept through a busy Russian shopping center
As many as 41 children could be among the victims of the blaze at the Winter Cherry shopping center, in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, on Sunday. Around a dozen people are still believed to be missing.
The blaze, one of the deadliest in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, swept through the upper floors of the complex that included a cinema and children’s play area.
Video footage showed a group of people in a smoke-filled staircase trying to smash a fire exit door, which was jammed.
Others were seen jumping from windows to escape the flames. Local media quoted two witnesses who said the fire alarm did not go off.
Eyewitnesses quoted by Russian media described panic as the flames spread rapidly through the building and fire safety systems failed.
“The flames engulfed everything in a moment. It was a question of seconds,” said one mother whose son was in a play area in the shopping centre when the fire started, according to local news website Gazeta Kemerovo.
“At that moment, my child was hanging one and a half metres up in the air on a zip wire and the man who had tied him on had disappeared… but a girl appeared from somewhere and got him down. Without her, he would have died.”
One woman told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper that she got a phone call from her 12-year old niece who was trapped in a burning cinema on the top floor of the building.
“There was panic and chaos, people were running everywhere. It became very dark when the lights went off, the escalators were not working, the lifts were not working, people were running and falling over,” Danila Plyut told Russian’s Channel One.
There were multiple reports from eyewitnesses that no fire alarms had been heard and that sprinkler systems were not activated. One parent of a child who was caught up in the blaze told Russian television that security guards had refused to allow her daughter to leave the burning building via a stairwell.
Footage from the still smouldering wreckage of the shopping centre on Monday where hundreds of firefighters were still working showed that large sections of the roof had collapsed during the fire.
Russian state investigators said four people had been detained over the fire, including the owners and leasers of outlets inside the shopping mall.
It took emergency services hours to bring the fire under control. After it was extinguished, rescuers were struggling to reach the upper floors because the roof had collapsed.
The shopping centre was converted from a former confectionery factory in 2013 and was popular with local residents for its facilities for children, which included a petting zoo.