Russia declares day of mourning after deadly mall fire

The search for bodies in Siberia has ended after the shopping mall fire that killed 64 people, but some locals refuse to believe the official figure for the death toll.

KEMEROVO (Russia) • Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a day of national mourning today, after a fire at a shopping mall in Siberia killed 64 people, Interfax news agency reported yesterday.

Mr Putin flew to the scene of the fire on Tuesday and promised angry residents that those responsible for what he called criminal negligence would be harshly punished.

The fire, at the Winter Cherry mall in the city of Kemerovo, killed 41 children, according to Interfax, and the calamitous way it was handled has stirred anger and focused attention on corruption and lax fire safety standards.

Mr Putin laid flowers at a makeshift memorial to the victims in the coal-producing region about 3,600km east of Moscow, before chairing a meeting of top officials.

"What's happening here? This isn't war, it's not an unexpected methane explosion at a coal mine. People came to relax, children," Mr Putin, visibly angry, told the meeting. "Why? Because of some criminal negligence, because of slovenliness. How could this ever happen?"

The fire swept through the mall's upper floors, where a cinema complex and children's play area were located, on Sunday afternoon. Investigators said fire exits were illegally blocked, the public address system not switched on, the fire alarm system broken, and children locked inside cinemas. Many staff responsible for public safety fled when the fire broke out.

Hundreds of angry protesters, many crying, gathered in central Kemerovo yesterday morning. Mayor Ilya Seredyuk tried to speak, but his words were often drowned out by chants calling on him to resign.

Thousands of Russians gathered yesterday at a makeshift memorial to mourn for those who died in a shopping mall fire in Kemerovo, Siberia, on Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visited the site, has declared a national day of mourning toda
Thousands of Russians gathered yesterday at a makeshift memorial to mourn for those who died in a shopping mall fire in Kemerovo, Siberia, on Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visited the site, has declared a national day of mourning today. Officials say 64 people, including 41 children, were killed in the fire that Mr Putin said was the result of criminal negligence. Thousands also gathered in protest in the city's central square to demand that the authorities release the actual death toll from the fire. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Many locals do not believe the official death toll and suspect hundreds were killed and a cover-up is under way. Relatives of victims say they have compiled a list of 85 people, mostly children, who are still missing.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2018, with the headline 'Russia declares day of mourning after deadly mall fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe