Families face agonising wait

2009-12-05 18:30

Perm - Hundreds of people on Saturday huddled in tents and buses near a Russian city morgue as they waited to identify the bodies of relatives who died in a nightclub blaze.

Some 200 people made anxious phone calls and pored over lists of the dead pinned up by the authorities, amid snow and freezing temperatures in the Urals Mountain city of Perm, about 1 200km east of Moscow.

"It's a very difficult situation psychologically, because the relatives are hoping until the last that their relatives won't be on the list," Oksana Butina, a regional emergency services spokeswoman, told AFP.

"So far 51 bodies have been identified. We will keep working into the night."

The death toll from the nightclub blaze reached 109 after another seven burn victims died in hospital, officials said.

Ignoring orders

Flames triggered by indoor fireworks ripped through the Lame Horse nightclub overnight to Saturday, where around 230 people celebrated the popular venue's anniversary.

Russian authorities accused club managers of ignoring repeated orders to comply with safety standards, with Russian President Medvedev condemning them as without "brains nor conscience".

Sitting gray-faced in a tent with his wife and other family members, Irik Khuryalulov said they had just identified his 21-year-old niece, Liliya Adypova, after a night-long search of city hospitals.

"She had no burns, just a mark on her head. We think that she hit her head, lost consciousness and died of smoke inhalation," he said. "She looked just as beautiful as she did in life."

Some relatives cried and screamed as they came out of the morgue. One overwrought woman, who preferred not to be named, said: "I have been waiting for an hour outside to identify my husband."

A police psychologist comforted people warming themselves in buses and gave tranquiliser pills to one woman who had tears streaming down her cheeks.

'Shared pain'

"People are grieving, of course. We are trying to help them and calm them down as much as we can in this situation," the psychologist, Antonina Malygina, said.

Lists pinned up outside the morgue showed most of the victims in their early 20s.

At the charred and chaotic scene of the tragedy, a steady stream of people ducked under police tape to lay flowers at the nightclub entrance.

"They were just young people who came to have a good time," said a woman, who gave her name only as Natasha. "It's our shared pain."