KEMEROVO (Reuters) – Funerals began in Russia yesterday of the 64 people, most of them children, whose deaths in a blaze at a Siberian shopping mall have roused public anger over official corruption and incompetence.
Flags on government buildings across Russia flew at half mast, state TV and radio stations removed light entertainment shows from their schedules, and lawmakers in Moscow observed a minute of silence.
The fire at the Winter Cherry mall in the city of Kemerovo on Sunday killed 41 children. Investigators have not yet confirmed the cause of the fire, but the high death toll has been blamed on reported shortcomings in the mall’s safety procedures.
At a funeral service in a Russian Orthodox church in Kemerovo, about 3,600 km east of Moscow, women wailed as prayers were sung over three coffins, including two small caskets for children.
Sergei and Natalia Agarkov were burying two school-age children, Konstantin and Maria. The children’s grandmother, Nadezhda Agarkova, was also killed.
All three had gone to watch a film at a cinema on the top floor of the shopping center on Sunday, but had been unable to get out of the auditorium when the fire broke out. Russia media reported that the doors had been locked.
“This tragedy is made even worse by the fact that children became victims of the blaze. Great grief is upon all of us and there are no words that would express our common pain,” the priest told the mourners, who held candles and repeatedly crossed themselves.
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin flew to Kemerovo and promised angry residents that those responsible for what he called criminal negligence would be punished and declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.
Investigators have said that the main theory they are looking into is that an electrical short circuit caused the fire. Another theory, which they say is less likely, is that the blaze began due to someone setting fire to something accidentally or deliberately.
Although authorities say they have recovered all of the bodies from the charred remains of the mall, many of the corpses were so badly damaged by the fire that they can only be identified via DNA testing. A further 14 people remain in hospital.