Vladivostok fire witnesses dispute official death toll of nine, claim at least 50

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Monday, January 23, 2006

At 11:45am on January 16, in Vladivostok, Russia, a fire broke out on the three upper floors of the Sberbank building.

Photographs taken by eye-witnesses show people, who were trapped, dropping from 8th floor windows to their deaths. According to some reports the firemen who were dispatched to the scene were pre-occupied at the rear of the building. They had apparently been ordered to evacuate the bank and its management from the area, which was not under immediate threat.

Official Russian media initially denied the fire, accusing the reports of being false.

Russian media later confirmed 7 and then, 9 dead. Witnesses and those rescued from the burning building have claimed that the figure exceeds 50.

A maintenance employee who worked in the building was quoted as saying, "I know at least about 13 dead inside ... that's the least I've noticed, not to consider those who've dropped down ... 8 of them dropped, looking at the three already dead on the ground, but they went through the windows without hope to be rescued ... They collected and hid the dead bodies inside. I work at this building! I know its layout very well! To declare, as it become clear, a less number of the dead later."

"My daughter worked in a justice department," - Natalia, one of the witnesses said. "She said that there were actually much more dead - up to 70. She went on the dead bodies, getting out from the building … some of them were so scorched, that it was impossible to identify them… 9 victims? That's a lie!"

Georic, a witness: "The cops ("menty"), whom I know, say that they've been loading the dead bodies all night long."

Lelya has posted her evidence on January 21, 2006 on the web-site http://news.vl.ru/vlad/2006/01/18/tradegy/ "My brother worked in that building, on the 6th flour. So, the night after the fire they visited the building to collect the documents, etc. and they saw how workers transported the dead bodies. He said, there were 50-60.."

Actions of the officials

Eugenia, a witness said, "who has told you, that fireteam arrived in 3 minutes? Or in 20 minutes? My uncle worked on anouther side of the building. He personally gave a call to the fire department. They said, "ok, ok, take it easy, here we go..." as if it were just some fun for them, "nothing serious!"

Reports from the scene say the fire brigade arrived at least 40 minutes or more from the time the call about the fire was placed.

The Fire-safety Department officials state that firemen had had "objective obstacles" which hampered rescue efforts. Among them were barred emergency exits and a congestion of cars in front of the burning building.

The mayor of Vladivostok in reply to a plea "to rescue those who are still in fire, does human life really cost nothing?" replied saying that, "human life costs nothing in Russia."

Law-enforcement authorities arrested the inspector who had checked the building in July 2004, and exposed a number of irregularities, such as barred windows in stairwells, but failed to control the elimination of these shortcomings.

Lyudmila Feofanova, CEO of the Maritime branch of "Sberbank", was arrested in Vladivostok in conjunction with the case of the fire which has killed, according to official reports, 9 and seriousely wounded 17 last Monday.

The Office of Public Prosecutor accuses L.Feofanova on failure to provide the bank with a fire-prevention system.

Mass-media coverage

The Russian official news agencies and mass-media report only 9 victims, several bank employees.

Five days following the fire, people have launched dozens of forums and web-sites, trying to tell their side of the story. They have created lists of those believed to be killed or those that are unable to be indentified.

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.