'Lax oversight' blamed for blaze

2009-12-06 17:23

Perm - Victims of a Russian nightclub blaze that killed 112 people were buried on Sunday, with angry mourners claiming lax oversight by authorities led to one of the country's worst recent tragedies.

About 100 people, most in their early 20s, stood grim and silent in the city's snow-covered cemetery for the funeral of one of the nightclub's barmen, 26-year-old Timur Parfiryev. The funeral was one of three on Sunday.

"Timur pulled friends out of the fire and died after he ran into the flames again," a man who gave his name only as Andrei said, adding Parfiryev's widow was pregnant with their first child.

"They found him when they were searching the ruins," he said, blaming the "corrupt authorities" for poor fire safety enforcement at the club.

The death toll in the blaze rose to 112 on Sunday after a woman died in hospital, a Perm regional emergency services spokeswoman told AFP.

Flames sparked by fireworks quickly caught on the wood and straw decor at the Lame Horse nightclub early on Saturday, witnesses said, causing panic as some 230 club-goers stampeded as they rushed to flee, choking on smoke.

No brains

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

The owner and manager of the Perm nightclub have been arrested, as were three other workers.

Russia's emergency services chief Sergei Shoigu called on Sunday for a ban on the use of fireworks at public gatherings and ordered fire safety checks redoubled ahead of the New Year celebrations.

"We should categorically ban the use of pyrotechnics in places where mass events are being held," Shoigu said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Angry residents lit candles and laid carnations outside the charred ruins of the nightclub in Perm, a city of around a million people some 1 200km east of Moscow.

One survivor, Nadezhda Safina, described how fast the fire had ignited and spread, saying she only managed to escape because she had sat near an exit.

"A spark from the fireworks set fire to the ceiling and it started to smoulder... the plastic started melting and dripping on people," she told AFP. "It was full of thick, brown smoke. It was frightening, people were crawling".

Teary-eyed, she said she had no doubt about who was to blame: "This was negligence. Nothing blew up, it wasn't a terrorist act."


Another resident, who gave her name only as Nadezhda, also accused organisers of "stupidity and indifference".

"The people who organise parties should create safe conditions. This was terrible. Something like this should have never happened," she said.

Less than an hour after the start of the blaze, firemen were piling bodies outside and hysterical club-goers searched among the rows for their friends, said witnesses, blogging on the popular Russian internet site Livejournal.

"When I got out of the nightclub, rescue workers were already carrying out bodies. The panic was horrendous. For the 300 guests, there was only one narrow door," posted one woman blogger, who said she had worked at the club.

Another Livejournal user, Yakimovmihail, said he joined in the rescue efforts after walking by the site of the fire.

"I saw a man in rags, with no hair or eyelashes," he wrote. "But the awful part started five minutes or so later when the fire fighters arrived. That's when they began to drag the bodies out."

The weekend tragedy highlighted lax enforcement of fire safety laws in Russia, where the death rate from fires is several times higher than in the West.