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March 6, 2010

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Doors close on underground hotels

HAVING operated an underground hostel for 13 years, Zhang Caiting has now closed it and converted it into a warehouse.

Zhang, one of the many owners of underground hostels and hotels in the city, made the decision after stricter controls on the use of underground space came into effect this month.

Hongkou District, where Zhang's hostel was, plans to close all such premises by the end of this month.

The district has a large number of World War II underground shelters which had been converted into small private hostels and hotels.

"The densely-populated underground hotels have lots of potential safety hazards," said Fu Weili, an official with the civil defense office under the district government.

She said the prevailing illegal installation of wires and bad ventilation in the underground inns posed potential fire and health risks.

The Quyang Collaborated Hostel, the 833-square-meter underground space that Zhang operated, was in a residential community.

The underground space, owned by the Civil Air Defense Office of Hongkou District, was made into a hostel in 1982 and Zhang took over the running of it in 1996.

With over 30 rooms, it could accommodate about 100 customers at a time. Considering the underground location and poor conditions, the rooms were let mostly to migrant workers.

Underground inns such as Zhang's and entertainment venues which usually did not meet fire control standards or had no easy means of escape could result in fatal accidents as large numbers of people gathered at such places, said Vice Mayor Shen Jun yesterday.

He said there would be no such small businesses by the time the World Expo 2010 opened on May 1.

The new rules, which took effect on March 1, state that owners of underground businesses need to register at the civil defense office.

In Hongkou District, a campaign against underground hotels was launched last year, and the 11 still open will be closed or have a change of use by the end of next month.

Early last February, officials from the district civil defense office suggested to Zhang that the space could be used as a warehouse.

It is now a store for small goods such as books and other publications. Although the profit was reduced by a half from a monthly income of about 5,000 yuan (US$732), Zhang said: "In return it saved me plenty of manpower and trouble." Previously the hostel attracted numerous complaints from nearby residents over noise, hygiene and safety.


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