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November 20, 2010

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4 more arrests as blaze deaths rise

FOUR construction company managers "holding prime responsibility" for the deadly blaze at a Shanghai high-rise on Monday were arrested, the city government announced yesterday.

The death toll from the fire had risen to 58.

The new arrests include management from the renovation project's general contractor, Shanghai Jing'an Construction.

So far, 12 people, including officials from construction and engineering companies and welders, have been arrested in connection with the fire.

Stray sparks from welding tools are believed to have started the blaze at an apartment building on Jiaozhou Road in Jing'an District which was being clad with insulating material. Flames spread quickly through bamboo scaffolding, engulfing the high-rise.

Lax safety supervision and mistakes by welders are to blame for the tragedy, according to a state investigation team.

A total of 53 bodies have been taken to a local funeral parlor. These included bodies found at the scene and people who died afterwards. Analysis revealed the DNA of other victims, bringing the death toll up to 58. These include 22 males and 36 females.

"Police studied some badly burned bodies collected from the fire site and, using DNA analysis, discovered human tissue belonging to five other people. So the death toll rose," an official with the city's Information Office said yesterday.

He also said the 56 people earlier listed as missing are mostly believed to be among the dead. Some names have already been matched up with bodies, while DNA testing would help identify others.

There is no precise figure of how many people were inside the building at the time of the blaze as numbers could have included visitors and cleaners. The building was home to around 440 people in 156 households.

Police said the new arrests were made on Thursday and that the four new suspects come from three companies connected with the project: the general contractor, Shanghai Jing'an Construction; the project supervising party, the Jing'an Construction Engineering Supervision and the Dimu Property Management Company, which was paid to set up scaffolding.

The previously arrested eight people include managers of the Jiayi Building Decoration Engineering Company and welders. Jing'an Construction is the top-level contractor on the project, while Jiayi - a subsidiary of Jing'an Construction - is the sub-contractor and main operator on-site.

Jing'an Construction was involved in another construction site fire this year. The Bailemen Hotel on Nanjing Road, near the site of Monday's blaze, was undergoing renovations when fire took hold on July 7, after two welders set alight decorating materials. No one was injured.

That blaze was blamed on poor fire control training and insufficient fire prevention measures, reported the Economic Observer.

People relocated after Monday's Jiaozhou Road fire told Shanghai Daily that the renovation project was offered by developers to appease residents protesting against a new high-rise due to be built nearby.

They claim the new building would be too close to their apartments.

Insiders from the construction authority said yesterday that the renovation project offer gained a legally qualified approval rate among residents before commencing.

The whole project is estimated to cost 35 million yuan (US$5.3m).

By yesterday, Insurers in Shanghai had paid out 7.8 million yuan to families affected by the blaze, with more payments to follow.

Shanghai Health Bureau also issued some good news yesterday.

Three-year-old girl Wang Liang, the youngest person injured in the blaze, was released from Changhai Hospital yesterday afternoon.

"She is the first of the 71 patients discharged from hospital," said Lu Taohong from Shanghai Health Bureau.

Of the 70 remaining patients, 16 are in a critical condition.

"The critical patients are showing some improvement," Lu said.

Three patients at Changhai Hospital have stopped depending on respiratory machines.


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