Kemerovo (Russia) (AFP) – When Nadezhda Vostrikova learnt that a fire had started at a shopping mall, trapping her daughter and many others inside a cinema, she ran for help. But the four firefighters she found on the top floor of the mall, where the cinema was located, said they could not go in.
“I fell on my knees and started begging: ‘Guys, save my children,’ to which they answered indifferently: ‘We can’t help you at all. We’re waiting for a brigade of rescuers,” Vostrikova wrote in a complaint to prosecutors.
Vostrikova and her husband Igor Sabadash lost a daughter, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in the huge mall fire in the western Siberian city of Kemerovo on Sunday.
The couple and several other people, who lost relatives, say they their loved ones died due to the inaction of firefighters and police because they lacked the necessary equipment and skills.
“I consider the work of firefighters in the first hour as inaction and indifference to human life,” Vostrikova wrote in an official complaint to general prosecutors, RBK daily reported.
She said that her daughter Alyona phoned to say that they were locked in the cinema, the lights had gone out and a fire had started.
She said she received her first call from her daughter at 4.05 pm local time (0905 GMT) and at 12 minutes past she heard her daughter’s last words: “Mum, I’m dying. I love you.”
Her husband said in his complaint that the firefighters said they lacked safety equipment.
Forty-one out of the 64 people who died were children, many of them unable to escape from play areas and cinemas on the top floor, while investigators said the fire alarm system was not working.
Prosecutors have ordered urgent checks of all similar shopping centres after the fire, one of the deadliest in Russia in recent decades.
– Demanding answers –
“The relatives are absolutely asking the right questions,” local activist and lawyer Nadezhda Svyatkina who lost friends in the fire, told AFP.
“People jumped out of windows. Why couldn’t they put up ladders? Why didn’t rescuers have respirators?” she questioned.
“I think this is all down to our system. We don’t have the technology to save people, only to rake through the rubble.”
Another local activist, said that three families had so far submitted complaints to prosecutors asking them “to issue a ruling on the actions of emergency services and police.”
“The prosecutors received these complaints and are working on them. Now they will question relatives of the dead and establish the timeline of events,” said Uchvatov.
Investigators will look into the firefighting equipment and the timing of events, using mobile phone records, said Uchvatov, who lost distant relatives in the fire.
Prosecutors confirmed receiving the complaints.
Firefighter Andrei Bursin, whose brigade was first on the scene, said Thursday firefighters arrived four minutes after the fire was reported and immediately went to the top floor where smoke was already too thick to see beyond arm’s length and “the fire was spreading rapidly”.
He said the mall’s management and security guards were not there when they arrived and firefighters did not know how many people were inside.
All the emergency exits were closed and there was no emergency lighting he said, quoted by the emergency ministry website.
– ‘Cinema doors locked later’ –
Igor Vostrikov — Vostrikova’s son, whose three children perished in the fire, along with wife and sister — said he had been shown closed-circuit camera footage by investigators which revealed that cinema doors were not locked when the fire broke out and were closed afterwards.
Previously investigators said the cinema doors had been locked, apparently to keep out those without tickets, a finding that shocked the public.
Vostrikov said some cinema-goers ran out but by the time his family and others reached the exit, the corridor was full of thick smoke.
“Some man took a decision to lock the door, block up chinks and wait for rescuers. But as you know, rescuers didn’t come,” he said.
The wife of the man who closed the door, Olga Trusova, wrote on Instagram that her husband Mikhail, who is in hospital, told her that people sat on the floor, breathing through damp cloths.
“There was no public address system, no alarm signal, no warning. There was nowhere to run,” she wrote.
She said that when children began to lose consciousness, adults broke down an emergency exit and her husband ran out into thick smoke to get help but lost consciousness seconds later.
He was dragged out but those left in the cinema died. The couple lost two daughters.