Police: Fire exits blocked in Russian mall fire that killed dozens

Smoke rises over the Zimnaya Vishnya shopping center in Kemerovo, Russia, Monday after a fire erupted and killed dozens of people -- including several children, officials said. Four people were arrested in connection to the blaze. Photo by Alexander Patrin/A42.Ru/EPA-EFE

March 26 (UPI) — Russian authorities said Monday the fire exits were blocked and no alarm went off when a fire blazed through a shopping center, killing more than 60 people.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said there were “serious violations” at the Zimnyaya Vishnya mall — also known as the Winter Cherry mall — which broke out Sunday in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. It burned through a movie multiplex and a children’s play area, fire officials said. Children were among the casualties.

In an early report, first deputy governor Vladimir Chernov said officials found 13 bodies in the movie theater. Dozens of children also were reported missing.

On Monday, officials said the death toll had risen to 64.

Chernov, questioned why emergency exits and doors were shut. Local politician Anton Gorelkin said “fire exits were shut, turning the complex into a trap” and that “there was no organized evacuation.”

“Four people were detained and interrogated within the framework of the criminal case, including the tenant of the premises where the epicenter of the fire was allegedly located,” a statement by the Investigative Committee said. It added that a criminal case, involving death through negligence and fire safety violations, has been opened.

Nadezhda Suddenok, director of the company occupying the upper two floors of the mall, was one of those detained.

Gorelkin representative, accused the city’s deputy mayor of accepting bribes when he approved the 2013 opening of the mall, the Moscow Times reported.

“The only way that he could have overlooked the blatant safety issues, I think, is in one scenario: his eyes were clouded by money,” he wrote in a social media post. “No amount of corrupt money can make up for the lives of our children.”

Firefighters evacuated at least 120 people from the mall, which was packed with parents and children on the first weekend of a school recess. At least 10 were hospitalized, and about 200 animals in a mall petting zoo died, officials said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.


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