Kemerovo (Russia) (AFP) – Russia on Wednesday began a national day of mourning and held the first funerals for the victims of a fire that ravaged a busy shopping centre in Siberia and killed 64 people, most of them children.
Flags were lowered and entertainment events cancelled for the day of mourning, three days after the devastating blaze on Sunday in the city of Kemerovo.
It comes amid widespread public anger at the blatant safety violations at the mall where children were trapped in a locked cinema and the fire alarm system was broken.
The youngest victim according to an official list published by Kemerovo authorities was a two-year-old boy, while at least 19 of the 64 people killed were under 10.
The authorities have made efforts to show concern, with President Vladimir Putin visiting the scene and upbraiding officials, although some observers criticised the official reaction as insufficient and belated.
“The authorities were late in announcing mourning,” political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told Vedomosti business daily.
“Possibly they didn’t want to spoil the positive mood after the elections and there was hope that the tragedy would not turn out to be so large-scale.”
Regional authorities have come in for particular criticism, since the regional governor Aman Tuleyev — who lost his niece in the fire — has not visited the scene nor met angry residents.
In Kemerovo region, relatives on Wednesday were holding the first funerals for victims as 27 bodies have been identified, regional emergencies minister Alexander Mamontov said.
Among those laid to rest were 57-year-old Nadezhda Agarkova who died together with her two grandchildren Konstantin, 8, and Maria, 10, in the mall’s cinema, RIA Novosti state news agency reported.
On Tuesday Kemerovo residents came out on the main square in a rare protest, some holding placards and shouted slogans calling for the sacking of Tuleyev and of Putin.
A deputy governor responded by accusing some of seeking “publicity from grief.”
While Putin was in the city, he did not come onto the square and met a small group of protesters separately.
Television channels on Wednesday broadcast with a black ribbon on the screen or a message “Kemerovo – we mourn,” while Orthodox Christian channel Spas aired a show called “Kemerovo: what can our prayers do?”
Newspapers including business daily Kommersant came out with no colour on their front pages while Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid covered its front and back pages with photos of the victims.
In the upper house of parliament, senators dressed in black, and rose at the beginning of the session to honour victims, Russian television showed.