Five killed, 55 injured after massive fire guts Russian shopping mall

MOSCOW (AFP) - A massive fire destroyed a shopping mall in the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, killing five people, local officials said on Thursday, adding that the toll could be far higher.

The three-storey building in Kazan, 800km east of Moscow, was destroyed in the blaze that broke out on Wednesday, sending towering plumes of black smoke into the air, television images showed.

The state-owned TASS news agency quoted a police source as saying five people had died and 55 were were injured. A total of 650 shoppers were rescued from the fire that razed a surface of 4,000 sq m.

The emergencies ministry said the blaze had been extinguished but added that up to 25 more corpses could be under the rubble.

There were likely panicked shopowners who rushed past police into the burning centre in a bid to save their merchandise.

Some 500 police officers and riot police had been deployed to seal off the building on Wednesday afternoon.

Those who are missing "are employees who have not contacted their relatives yet", Mr Igor Panshin, director of the Emergency Situations Ministry in the Volga region, told TASS.

"A roof collapsed, there are people under the rubble, there are no survivors," he said.