Death toll increases to 64 in Russia shopping mall fire, more than dozen missing

Death toll increases to 64 in Russia shopping mall fire, more than dozen missing
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Moscow: The death toll from a fire at a shopping mall in the Russian city of Kemerovo has reached 64 people, Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov said on Monday.
The fire, one of the deadliest in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, swept through the upper floors of the mall where a cinema complex and children’s’ play area were located. Russian emergency services said the fire, which started on Sunday afternoon, had now been extinguished but that rescuers were struggling to reach the upper floors because the roof of the building had collapsed.
More than a dozen people were still unaccounted for. People posted appeals on social media seeking news of their relatives or friends, and authorities set up a centre in a school near the mall to deal with inquiries from people seeking missing family members.
Images on Russian television showed 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 yesterday.
The preliminary findings of an inquiry said the fire started around 1100 GMT in one of the cinema halls and destroyed more than 1,000 square metres of the centre, news agencies reported.
“The roof collapsed in two theatres in the cinema,” the Investigative Committee said.
The local office of Russia’s emergency services ministry said the fire broke out on the third and top floor of the mall, where firefighters were struggling on Monday to clear the rubble.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal inquiry and four people, including the tenant renting the premises where the fire broke out and the head of the company that manages the mall, had been arrested.
Around 120 people had been evacuated from the burning centre, rescuers said on Sunday.
“This shopping centre on several floors was packed with people midday Sunday. No one knows exactly how many people there were inside when the fire broke out,” Alexandre Eremeyev, an official with the local Russian emergency services ministry, said in a statement.
Some 300 firefighters and rescue personnel were rushed to the scene and the fire was brought under control around 1730 GMT, local emergency officials said.
Russia’s minister of emergency services, Vladimir Putchkov has gone to Kemerovo, RIA Novosti said.
A shopping mall fire in March 2015 killed 11 people in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan some 800 kilometres east of Moscow.
In April 2013, a fire ravaged a psychiatric hospital in the Moscow region, killing 38 people, most of them patients who were engulfed by flames as they slept behind barred windows.
Just months later, in September 2013, 37 people were killed when a fire swept through a psychiatric hospital in the village of Luka in northwest Russia.
In 2009, 156 were killed in a nightclub fire in the city of Perm, 1,200 kilometres east of Moscow in one of the deadliest accidents in Russia’s modern history.