Russian Shopping Mall Fire Death Toll is 64, Including 41 Children
By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Hundreds of Russians took to the streets of the Siberian city of Kemerovo on Tuesday, calling for a full investigation into the shopping mall fire that claimed the lives of 64 people, 41 of them children, the Russian news agency TASS reported.
"We are concerned about the rumors that have surfaced around this tragedy. We want to know the exact number of victims. We also need to hear who is to blame for what happened and what measures will be taken," participants in the rally told TASS.
Putin Declares Day of Mourning, Blames Fire on ‘Criminal Negligence’
Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to the city to offer his condolences to the families of the victims. He declared a national day of mourning on Wednesday. Putin also ordered the nation’s flags to fly at half staff and cultural institutions, television and radio to cancel entertainment events and programs.
Putin blamed the fire on "criminal negligence" and promised that those responsible would be held accountable.
"What is happening here -- this was not a combat situation, not an unexpected methane outburst in a mine," he said. "People came to rest, children. We talk about demographics and lose so many people because of what? Because of criminal negligence and carelessness," CNN reported Putin as saying.
The precise origin of the fire has yet to be determined.
Security Guard Switched off a Fire Alarm System
Russia’s Investigative Committee Spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko told TASS that a security guard switched off a fire alarm system at the mall. The unnamed man, who worked for a private security firm, may be detained as a suspect in the criminal case, Petrenko said. She gave no indication of a motive.
Petrenko said serious violations were ignored "both when the shopping center opened and after, during its operation," CNN reported.
Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova visited the hospital where about 10 people were being treated. She said the patient in the worst condition was an 11-year-old boy who jumped out a fourth-floor window.
The fire at the Zimnyaya Vishnya shopping mall -- also known as Winter Cherry -- broke out on Sunday evening in the top floor of the center's four-story building. It was the first weekend of the spring break for students, CNN said.
Insurers Estimate Damage at over $70 Million
Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov told TASS that two of the three "cinema halls" at the 23,000 square meter complex collapsed during the fire.
The All-Russian Union of Insurers estimated the damage at four billion rubles ($70 million), TASS said.
Zimnyaya Vishnya opened in 2013 and was one of Kemerovo’s most popular entertainment centers for children. That may have accounted for the large number of young victims. The center had its own indoor skating rink, petting zoo and trampolines on the top floor.
Kemerovo Governor Promises Compensation for Victims’ Families
Families of the victims will be paid one million rubles ($17,500) in compensation for the death of each victim, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev announced Monday morning.
"If there are two (family members killed in the fire), God forbid, then it will be two million rubles," Tuleyev said in a statement published by TASS.
Kemerovo is about 800 kilometers (approximately 500 miles) northeast of the Kazakhstan border and about 3,600 kilometers (1,800 miles) east of Moscow.