MOSCOW (AFP) – At least 53 people were killed when a fire ravaged a busy shopping centre in an industrial city in Siberia, with many more reported still missing on Monday, including children.
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 on Sunday afternoon.
“The deaths of 53 people have been confirmed,” a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigative Committee, Svetlana Petrenko, said in a statement.
A previous toll put the number of dead at 37 with 69 missing, including 40 children.
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 (1,200 square yards) 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.
“Where to look for people? How many are there? That has greatly complicated the work of the firefighters,” he said, adding that the thick smoke was also hindering their task.
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.
It was the deadliest blaze in Russia in recent years.
A shopping mall fire in March 2015 killed 11 people in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan some 800 kilometres (500 miles) 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.