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November 22, 2010

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City mourns victims of deadly apartment blaze

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the site of last Monday's apartment building blaze in Shanghai yesterday to mourn the 58 people who died in the inferno blamed on illegal contracting and poor management.

Yesterday was the seventh day since the disaster, in which 71 people were also injured, a day Chinese believe the souls of the deceased revisit their families before leaving for good. The tradition is for family members to burn paper offerings and preparing a feast for the dead to enable them to rest in peace.

Family members and friends wept and knelt in front of portraits of the deceased to mourn their loved ones. They were not alone. The whole city mourned with them.

From early morning, crowds of people, including top city officials, came in all directions to what remained of the building at 728 Jiaozhou Road in Jing'an District, with white and yellow chrysanthemums in their hands. People were still arriving at the site from all parts of the city last night.

Small black and white posters declaring: "Shanghai Don't Cry: Mourn the Victims of Shanghai's Jiaozhou Road Fire," were being distributed with chrysanthemums by people wearing black and yellow badges identifying themselves as a group formed on a micro blog at

About 200 of them had brought more than 10,000 flowers to hand out to mourners, the group's organizer, Fang Zheng, said.

"Some flowers were sent on behalf of netizens from other provinces who couldn't come to the scene," Fang told Shanghai Daily. "We just want to express our grief for our fellow residents."

One of the group, surnamed Tian, said: "It's a message not just to remember the dead, but also to remind everyone to cherish life."

Another member, handing out flowers and posters at the intersection of Changde Road and Yuyao Road with tears in her eyes, added: "Though none of my family or friends was killed in the fire, I still felt I should do something. We are all Shanghainese."

The crowd of mourners peaked at about 3pm yesterday with queues of people wanting to present flowers stretching as far away as the junction of Yuyao Road and Yanping Road, some 250 meters from the blaze-hit building. Police and riot squads were there to maintain order.

"I came to express my sympathy and sorrow for the victims and may the living be strong," said a 68-year-old man surnamed Yuan.

Yuan, who lives in Xuhui District, turned back to look at the building several times after laying down his floral tribute.

Roads around the block where the building is, from Yuyao Road to Jiaozhou Road, had been covered with flowers since the day after the fire. Among the fresh flowers and wreaths on the ground were photos of the dead, smiling faces of men, women and children placed in dainty frames.

The photo of a smiling toddler is surrounded with piles of stuffed toys - teddy bears, tigers and animation characters. The toddler, 16-month-old Xiao Yuchen, was the fire's youngest victim.

A frail 74-year-old man in the neighborhood stepped out of his wheelchair to pay his respects to the dead. "It was painful to witness the fire from my apartment window," he said. "All Shanghainese should mourn the dead."

The police had to close several entrances later in the afternoon to control the crowds with many more people wanting to pay their respects than there was room to do so.

Mourners spelt out "11.15" - the date of the disaster - with chrysanthemums and candles and placed them at the foot of the building. They held flowers, banners and presents and were doing whatever they could to express their grief and provide comfort for the bereaved families.

The Shanghai City Symphony Orchestra played "Ave Maria" a street away from the building at noon. Monks at Jing'an Temple also chanted sutras for the victims.

Shanghai's Communist Party chief Yu Zhengsheng, Mayor Han Zheng and other senior officials joined the crowds of mourners, bowing three times in a silent tribute and presenting white chrysanthemums.

The blaze broke out at about 2pm last Monday after sparks from welding equipment ignited flammable materials. Some 440 people from 156 households lived in the 28-story building built in 1997.

Luo Lin, head of the State Administration of Work Safety, has blamed the tragedy on unlicensed welders, illegal multi-layered sub-contracting and poor management.

Shanghai police have detained 12 people in connection with the fire, including top managers from the contractor and the subcontractor.


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