Victims in deadly collapse of China middle school gym roof largely members of girl's volleyball team

11 months ago 15

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Prosecutors in northeastern China are pursuing criminal charges against the managers of a construction firm blamed for the collapse of the roof of a middle school gymnasium, leading to 11 deaths.

State media on Tuesday gave few details about the case and the victims, but said 19 people were inside the facility when the concrete roof came down, among them two coaches and 17 players.

Fifteen were trapped in the rubble after the Sunday afternoon collapse at the No. 34 Middle School, with the last victim only being recovered on Monday morning.

An initial investigation said a construction crew working on a new administrative building next to the gym had stored bags of perlite used in plastering and internal finishing work on the roof that had grown heavy by absorbing water from the recent heavy rains striking much of the country, particularly the northwest.

Following the incident, social media and the Baidu news website carried footage of angry parents complaining about what they said was a slow response and lack of communication from authorities. On Tuesday, Baidu ran photos and video testimonials to the players under the masthead “I've lost my very best friends.”

An official investigation into the cause of the disaster has begun. School design and construction have been questioned in the past, from the mass collapse of classrooms leading to thousands of deaths in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to the provision of running tracks to Beijing schools that emitted toxic gases.

Such expressions of anger and defiance are usually quickly suppressed by police and government departments worried over social unrest. The ruling Communist Party allows no challenges to its authority and seeks to keep total control over the press and social media.

Construction and industrial accidents are regular occurrences in China, largely resulting from companies ignoring safety standards and corruption or a lack of diligence on the part of local government agencies.

Those problems are especially acute in cities such as Qiqihar, which lies in the Chinese rustbelt province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia that has seen large-scale economic decline and outward migration in recent years.

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