At least 53 people have died in a fire that tore through a shopping and entertainment complex in the Siberian coal-mining city of Kemerovo.
As many as 41 children may be among the victims, officials say, and more than 10 are listed as missing.
The blaze started on an upper floor of the Winter Cherry complex while many of the victims were at the cinema.
Video posted on social media showed people jumping from windows to escape the flames on Sunday.
“According to preliminary information, the roof collapsed in two cinemas,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Alexander Fridman, a local entertainment producer in Perm, says he has little doubt that corruption has to be factored into any explanation for the Lame Horse tragedy.
“Fire inspectors found violations of the regulations a year ago, yet they didn’t come back to check whether corrections were made. Why was that?,” he asks. “There were hundreds of people gathering at that club every night, yet they never closed it down. The basic lesson is that fire inspectors should not take bribes.”
Amid Russia’s decaying infrastructure and often jury-rigged new construction, the potential for such accidents abound because laws are not enforced, experts say.
“I see this danger everywhere I go, especially places like supermarkets,” says Vyacheslav Glazychev, a professor at Moscow’s official Institute of Architecture. “As long as we have this practice of paying bribes rather than making the needed improvements, nothing will change.”
I have experience in construction in Russia and dealing with the fire safety authorities, and I can confirm that the entire system is a vehicle for graft. There’s actually not a lot wrong with Russia’s fire safety laws, and the design of a new building must include adequate fire protection and safety measures to get approval. However, the fire inspectors have a nasty habit of finding “problems” – even if none exists – and to rectify the situation to their satisfaction you must pay a specific person or company. Once paid, they leave you alone in many cases. So instead of having a situation whereby the fire inspectors are satisfied only once they’ve seen a building is safe, we have one whereby they are satisfied merely by being paid. Note that the building’s owner might not always be at fault here: he has no choice but to pay, and might not be aware that he’s in breach of fire safety regulations (like most Russian laws, following them is not straightforward). It’s the inspectors’ job to identify any non-compliances, but if they’re only interested in shaking people down for bribes who knows what they might overlook?
As well as a multiplex cinema, the shopping centre, which opened in 2013, includes restaurants, a sauna, a bowling alley and a petting zoo.
This is a modern building, not some ramshackle old thing made from wood. There should have been adequate fire protection systems in place (e.g. fireproof cladding), as well as a sprinkler system which would slow the fire’s spread and give everyone enough time to get out. As with previous disasters, the authorities will investigate, widespread corruption and non-compliances with the fire code will be identified, some sap will be fingered and thrown in jail and anyone with money and connections will walk free. Even if the owner is jailed, as was the case after the Perm nightclub fire, you can be sure no senior government official will suffer anything greater than an awkward question or two.