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Russians Grieve As At Least 64 Killed In Siberian Shopping Mall Fire


At least 64 people are dead and dozens have been hospitalized after a fire raced through a busy shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, Russian authorities say.

The death toll from the fire that broke out on March 25 could still rise as the search progresses through the building in the city, some 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow.

Emergency officials said the fire has 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 on March 26, and several of the victims were believed to be children.

Four people have been detained for questioning, including the heads of the company that managed the shopping center and the company that rented the space where the fire is believed to have started, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known and authorities launched a criminal investigation, the Investigative Committee said.

Videos posted on social media showed a man leaping or falling to the street after climbing out a window and another man inside the building, trying to break down a door in a stairwell as flames and smoke filled the area.

The fatal fire drew an outpouring of grief and sympathy from Russians and people abroad on social media. A photograph from Kemerovo showed dozens of people lining up in the snow to give blood.

A senior emergency official said on state TV early on March 26 that 41 children were believed to be missing, but the Investigative Committee did not say how many of those confirmed dead were children.

"An 11-year-old boy who jumped out of a fourth-floor window to save his life is the only survivor of his whole family. His mother, father, and a younger sibling all died," Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said.

Negligence, cost-cutting, corruption, and the thwarting of safety rules are blamed for causing or aggravating the human toll from blazes in Russia, where the death rate from fires is far higher than in most Western countries.

According to figures from the International Association of Fire and Rescue Services, there were 10,068 fire deaths in Russia in 2014 and 3,275 in the United States, whose population is roughly twice that of Russia.

Kemerovo region Governor Aman Tuleyev had declared that families of people killed in the blaze would receive a payment of 1 million rubles ($17,500) in compensation for each fatality.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova to go to Kemerovo to lead the investigation and organize assistance for the injured, his office said.

Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said that "firefighters and rescuers are risking their lives and health working inside the facility due to its unstable structure and heavy smoke [and] high temperatures."

The Investigative Committee said the blaze appeared to have started in a hallway at a multiplex cinema in the shopping mall, which is called Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry).

"The roof collapsed in two theaters in the cinema," the committee said.

It said about 120 people had been evacuated from the 1,500-square-meter shopping center, which also includes an entertainment complex, a zoo, and several restaurants. It opened in 2013.

On March 25, television footage showed smoke billowing from the building as fire crews worked to evacuate the multistory facility. People were also seen jumping from windows to escape the blaze.

"This shopping center on several floors was packed with people midday [on March 25],” one official said. “No one knows exactly how many people there were inside when the fire broke out."

Kemerovo is an industrial city and the capital of a coal-producing region of the same name.

With reporting by Current Time TV, AP, Reuters, the BBC, TASS, and RIA Novosti
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