Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
What next on Iran’s nuclear deal: follow the news here

Unlicensed welders arrested over Shanghai apartment fire

A preliminary investigation into the high-rise blaze that killed at least 53 people showed that four welders had improperly operated their equipment.

SHANGHAI // Police detained unlicensed welders Tuesday on suspicion of accidentally starting a fire that engulfed a high-rise apartment building under renovation in China's business capital, killing at least 53 people, as public anger grew over the government's handling of the disaster.

A preliminary investigation showed four welders improperly operated their equipment, sparking Monday's blaze in Shanghai, the city government said on its website. Police investigating the disaster said eight people had been detained, but did not identify them.

Shanghai's fire chief said the fire started on the 10th floor and spread quickly to scaffolding and nylon nets covering the 28-story building. The inferno sent black smoke billowing across the city's skyline.

In addition to the 53 fatalities, the city government said Tuesday that more than 70 other people had been rushed to hospitals. Fifteen were in serious condition, most elderly and suffering from smoke inhalation, the deputy director of the Shanghai Health Bureau, Li Weiping, said.

Frustration grew Tuesday among relatives seeking answers to how such a tragedy could happen in a wealthy city that is one of the country's best-run urban centers.

"It is hard to believe the government now. The drills on TV are successful, but when a fire truly happens, it's just useless. We feel helpless," said a woman who gave only her surname, Liu. She said her mother lived on the ninth floor of the building and died in the fire.

"There must be something illegal in the construction materials, though we don't know. I am waiting for the government's explanation," Liu said. The renovations were intended to improve the building's energy efficiency.

At one temporary facility for residents of the building, one middle-aged man was shouting that he was being stopped from going to a funeral home to identify his wife.

"I couldn't sleep last night, and have been waiting hours and hours. Why don't they tell me the truth, why don't they let me go?" said the man, who refused to give his name.

Survivors were taken to nine Shanghai hospitals, where relatives searched for their loved ones. Local authorities have tried to determine the number of residents in the building when the fire broke out and how many remain missing, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Chen Jiulong, Shanghai's deputy police chief, said eight people had been detained. He did not say if all were workers.

"This fire is a manmade disaster involving heavy responsibility and we must pursue those who are legally responsible for it," he said.

Shanghai Fire Chief Chen Fei told the same news conference that 200 firefighters went into the burning building and rescued 107 people. He said once the scaffolding and nylon nets caught fire the flames spread quickly, especially because it was a windy day.

Asked if there could still be people inside, Chen would only say firefighters entered the building after the blaze was largely put out Monday evening and were carrying out "an extremely thorough search."

Shanghai, a city of 20 million and the venue of the recently concluded World Expo, has witnessed a construction frenzy in recent years, ranging from high rises that dot its skyline to new subway lines, highways and airport upgrades. But unsafe building work remains a chronic problem in China.

Last year, a nearly finished 13-story apartment building in Shanghai collapsed, killing one worker. Investigations showed that excavated dirt piled next to the building may have caused the collapse.

There have been no reports of serious apartment fires in China in recent years. The Shanghai fire is the worst since 53 people died in a supermarket fire in Jilin province in northeast China in 2003, according to the State Administration for Work Safety. It said 300 died in another supermarket fire in Henan province in central China in 2000.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National