At least 53 people are dead, with dozens injured, following a fire in a shopping mall in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry has said. It is believed that as many as 41 children may be among the victims.
The fire, which emergency services say began on Sunday afternoon, swept through the upper floors of the mall, which housed a cinema complex and a children’s play area. It has now been extinguished but rescuers were struggling to reach the upper floors after the roof of the building – known as the Zimnyaya Vishnya, or Winter Cherry – collapsed.
Andrei Mamchenkov, deputy head of Russia’s National Crisis Management Centre, said 41 children were unaccounted for. At least nine of the bodies found so far are children.
People posted appeals on social media seeking news of their relatives or friends, and authorities set up a center in a nearby school to deal with inquiries from those seeking missing family members.
Video footage from inside the mall after the fire broke out showed a group of people in a smoke-filled staircase trying to smash a fire exit door, which was jammed. Other videos posted on social media on Sunday appeared to show people jumping from windows to escape the flames.
Russian state investigators said four people had already been detained over the fire, including the owners and leasers of outlets inside the shopping mall. They added that they were trying to bring in the mall‘s principal owner for questioning.
Some 660 emergency personnel were deployed in the rescue effort, with firefighters battling the blaze for more than 17 hours. According to state media reports, 20 people were saved from the burning building, with around 100 others evacuated.
Kemerovo, a key coal-producing area, lies about 3,600km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow, and 800 kilometers northeast of the Kazakhstan border.
The families of each victim would be paid one million rubles (US$17,500) in compensation following the fire, Kemerovo’s Governor, Aman Tuleyev, said early on Monday.
With reporting from Reuters.