Russian Mall Fire, Fire exits blocked

Fire exits were blocked and an alarm system was turned off in the Russian shopping center where 64 people died in a huge fire.

The theater was packed, and children’s movies were on the screens when the smoke began billowing in. When panicked audience members rushed for the exits, they found them blocked.

Many used their phones to plead for help, among them Viktoria Pochankina, an 11-year-old girl on a class trip to the Siberian mall where a fire on Sunday killed at least 64 people, many of them children.

 With anger, sadness, and confusion, Russians struggled to come to grips Monday with a shocking failure of fire safety that allowed a blaze to storm through a crowded shopping center in the Siberian city of Kemerovo, killing 64 people.

An entire class of schoolchildren apparently died in Sunday’s fire, some having had the chance to make desperate, futile phone calls to parents or relatives before succumbing to the smoke and flames.

Russian social networks were flooded with grief, and a measure of anger over the response. Officials said fire exits were blocked and an alarm had been turned off. The disastrous blaze joins a long list of accidents, fires and sinkings in Russia marked by apparent negligence beforehand and inept or insufficient response by emergency services. Russian prosecutors can be quick to assign criminal blame in such cases — and rapidly went to work in Kemerovo — but subsequent promises to step up safety measures often prove to be halfhearted.

“We are burning, perhaps this is goodbye,” a 13-year-old named Maria posted on her social media account, according to the Rossiya-24 television channel. Hers was one of about 30 goodbyes posted by children who would not log into their accounts again.

“There are no accurate lists,” the television reporter said, “but the parents are holding on to the hope that the names of their children will be moved from the list of the dead to those missing.”

The fire broke out Sunday afternoon, the first day of a week-long school break. A class from a school in the small town of Treshchevsky had come to Kemerovo to see a movie at the Winter Cherry mall, eat ice cream and jump on a trampoline. On Monday, parents of the students visited hospitals hoping to find their children. The director of the school, Pavel Orynsky, broke down while describing the students on camera.

A woman named Yevgenia told the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that her niece Vika called her at 4:11, right after the fire broke out, from the movie theater where so many of the children from Treshchevsky found themselves trapped.

“She told me that everything was on fire, that all the doors were blocked,” Yevgenia said, struggling to overcome her tears.

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