MOSCOW • At least 23 Russian soldiers were crushed to death after their military barracks in Siberia collapsed, the latest disaster to hit a country known for shoddy construction work and lax safety standards.
An entire section of the military barracks, including parts of the roof and walls, collapsed on Sunday evening just outside the Siberian city of Omsk, some 2,200km east of Moscow, as paratroopers were resting, the Defence Ministry said.
"As a result of the collapse, more than 40 servicemen were injured," Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said yesterday. "Twenty-three conscripts died, the others were hospitalised with various injuries."
Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said 19 servicemen had been hospitalised.
The barracks - built in 1975 and renovated in 2013 - belong to the 242nd training centre that prepares junior officers and armoured infantry vehicle drivers, among others.
In footage shown on Russian television, soldiers formed a human chain to pass bricks and other debris from one person to another as they cleared the mountain of rubble from the collapse.
"Half of the heap has been cleared now," acting commander of Russian paratroopers Nikolai Ignatov said in televised remarks.
The authorities tied the incident to negligence on the part of construction workers.
The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to President Vladimir Putin, opened a probe into negligence, violation of safety rules and abuse of power. It said that those found guilty would face up to 10 years in prison.
Mr Markin, the committee's spokesman, said investigators were probing several explanations for the tragedy, including possible violations during renovations in 2013.
Building collapses and other infrastructure accidents are fairly frequent in Russia, especially outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where the enforcement of safety regulations is lax and corruption rampant.
Last Saturday, two people died when part of a residential building collapsed in the Urals city of Perm.
The latest tragedy represents a major blow to Mr Putin, who has made reviving the army after years of post-Soviet neglect a cornerstone of his policies.
The barracks have become the "paratroopers' mass grave", broadsheet daily Kommersant said.