SHANGHAI/BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) – Ten people have died in the collapse of a hotel in the Chinese city of Quanzhou, the Ministry of Emergency Management said on Sunday (March 8), after state media said the place was being used to quarantine individuals under observation for the coronavirus.
The hotel began to collapse on Saturday evening. As of 4pm on Sunday, authorities had retrieved 48 individuals from the site of the collapse, the ministry said. Of that total, 10 have been confirmed dead, with the rest being treated in hospitals, it said.
Authorities are still searching for 28 people, the ministry added.
According to state media outlet Xinhua, the owner of the building, a man with surname Yang, has been summoned by police.
The building’s first floor had been under renovation at the time of the collapse, the news agency said.
Footage circulating on microblogging platform Weibo later showed rescue workers combing through the rubble of the 80-room hotel in coastal Quanzhou city in Fujian in the dark as they reassured a woman trapped under heavy debris and carried wounded victims into ambulances.
The hotel’s facade appeared to have crumbled to the ground, exposing the building’s steel frame, and a crowd gathered as the evening wore on.
“I was at a gas station and heard a loud noise. I looked up and the whole building collapsed. Dust was everywhere, and glass fragments were flying around,” a witness said in a video posted on the Miaopai streaming app.
“I was so terrified that my hands and legs were shivering.”
A woman named by only her surname, Chen, told the Beijing News website that relatives, including her sister, had been under quarantine at the hotel as prescribed by local regulations after returning from Hubei province, where the coronavirus emerged.
She said they had been scheduled to leave soon after completing their 14 days of isolation.
“I can’t contact them; they’re not answering their phones," she said.
“I’m under quarantine too (at another hotel) and I’m very worried, I don’t know what to do. They were healthy, they took their temperatures every day, and the tests showed that everything was normal.”
Quanzhou has recorded 47 cases of the Covid-19 infection and the hotel, which opened just two years ago, was recently repurposed to house people who had been in recent contact with confirmed patients, the People’s Daily state newspaper reported.
The municipality said 36 emergency rescue vehicles such as cranes and excavators, 67 firefighting vehicles, 15 ambulances, and more than 700 firefighters, medical and other rescue workers were at the scene as the operation stretched into the night.
Quanzhou is a port city on the Taiwan Strait in the province of Fujian with a population of more than eight million.
The official People’s Daily said the hotel had opened in June 2018 with 80 rooms.
Beijing News’ video stream was viewed by more than two million Weibo users on Saturday evening, and the hotel’s collapse was the top trending topic on the Weibo site, China’s close equivalent to Twitter.
Some users demanded a investigation into how the hotel could have collapsed.
China is no stranger to building collapses and deadly construction accidents, which are typically blamed on the country’s rapid growth, leading to corner-cutting by builders and the widespread flouting of safety rules.
At least 20 people died in 2016 when a series of crudely-constructed multi-storey buildings packed with migrant workers collapsed in the eastern city of Wenzhou.
Another 10 were killed last year in Shanghai after the collapse of a commercial building during renovations.
Anger has been building up against the authorities in China over their early handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 3,300 people globally, most of them in China.
The Fujian provincial government said that as of Friday, the province had 296 cases of coronavirus and 10,819 people had been placed under observation after being classified as suspected close contacts.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the committee responsible for working safety under the State Council, China’s Cabinet, had sent an emergency working team to the site.