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November 23, 2010

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Mayor: Responsibility for blaze 'inescapable'

Top officials of Shanghai said yesterday that "chaos in local construction market and lax supervision" were the key reasons behind the building inferno on November 15 and they felt "deeply sorry" over what had happened.

"We have inescapable responsibilities," said Mayor Han Zheng at a government meeting yesterday.

Shanghai's Communist Party chief Yu Zhengsheng and Han told the meeting the city government would crack down on the "chaos and lack of order found in the city's construction market."

At the meeting the government also decided to name November 15 as "Urban Public Safety Day" so that the bitter lessons learned from the tragedy would never be forgotten.

Meanwhile, the work of identifying the victims has largely been finished, according to authorities. Some victims had been so badly burned they could only be identified through their DNA.

All the bodies recovered after the fire have been identified, according to a community official.

Gu Jianrong said family members whose relatives had previously been listed as "those who could not be reached," now knew the fate of their loved ones.

Yu and Han led a group of the city's top officials to join tens and thousands of mourners in silent tribute and presented white chrysanthemums of condolence in front of the burned building on Sunday.

The four-hour inferno in the 28-story residential building killed 58 people and injured 70 others.

Local people continued to gather around the building to mourn the victims yesterday and laid flowers in tribute. Some just stood in silence.

"The alarm bell should always ring," said Mayor Han. "We should be responsible for residents' lives and our city."

He said some safety inspection measures were only "on the surface" and had not been carried out with full rigour. Many construction sites knew in advance when inspections were due to take place, he said.

Following the tragedy, a series of inspections focusing on fire control and safety in the workplace were launched across the city's construction sites, residential compounds, schools, hospitals and other public buildings. Some construction sites still had poor fire-safety standards despite the fatal blaze.

Some residential buildings, especially older ones, were found with potential fire risks, with obstructions in many hallways making escape difficult in the event of a fire, inspectors said.

The city is studying plans for the resettlement of survivors and others affected by the blaze and also the matter of compensation.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from two buildings next to the one which caught fire. They are being housed in 17 local hotels.

Officials said the plans would be made public soon and community staff had compiled a list of each family's needs.

Seventy survivors are being treated at seven local hospitals and 16 of them are in a critical condition, Shanghai Health Bureau said yesterday. Seven are on life-support machines and all those in a serious condition are being kept under strict observation.

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 building built more than 10 years ago.

The fire was blamed 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.

One worker who had been rescued from the building said he had been left without money to get home.

Yan Gaoyi, a 45-year-old scaffolder from southwest Sichuan Province, said he was owed more than 3,000 yuan (US$451) in wages.


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