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9 Dec, 2009 10:11

Nightclub death toll rises while city mourns

Three more people who were injured in a nightclub fire in the Russian city of Perm have died in hospital. According to the region’s officials, it brings the total death toll to 125.

Among those who died overnight was one of the suspects in the criminal case.

Over a hundred people are still being treated in hospitals – with forty in a critical condition.

The head of the Perm city administration submitted his resignation on Wednesday over the tragedy. He said he chose to do it five days after the fire because he considered it unappropriate to raise the question in days of mourning and because he wanted to do what he could to deal with the consequences of the fire.

One day before eleven top local officials have been suspended from their positions. The country's Prosecutor General has said that “outrageous fire safety violations” were to blame for the tragedy.

The governor of the Perm Region noted that illegal renovations at the building – which blocked emergency exits – was a key factor in the disaster and the reason for such a high number of casualties.

The deadly night club in Perm was meant for 50 people, not over 200, and that is the cause of the high death toll, claimed Perm regional governor Oleg Chirkunov on Tuesday.

“People were locked in a trap because after illegal reconstruction of the building, the ways for escape were locked,” Chirkunov told Izvestia newspaper.

Friday's devastating club fire is thought to have been triggered by the use of fireworks inside the venue, but the investigation is ongoing.

The managers of the nightclub and the owner of the company which organized the fireworks are among four people who have been charged over the blaze.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has demanded a full investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the horrendous fire and added that negligence has become a national threat in Russia.

“Negligence is causing a huge number of emergencies – road accidents, fires," President Medvedev said, "The recent tragedy in Perm is outrageous. We need a thorough investigation to understand how authorities should react to this situation. How can we prevent this sort of thing? Only by prosecuting everyone responsible. Not only by fining them, but also in criminal court.”

Russia's Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu has dismissed a chief fire inspector and six officials in the Perm region.

“It is clear that they can no longer do their job properly,” he said.

The host of the show at the club that night was the first to alert partygoers to the fire, but he says the crowd did not respond immediately.

“I didn’t shout, didn’t fuel panic. I couldn’t,” said Vlad Konopatkin, “But the people failed to grasp what was happening. They were sitting there thinking it was part of the show. The head of the fireworks company should have raised fire safety issues, demanding the right papers, or have refused to work there.”

Memorial services have been held throughout the country and funeral services in every one of Perm's churches.

“I lost my best friend,” said Anna Gamezinova, “She was always so cheerful, so joyous! We were due to go together that night, but I couldn't. I texted her several times that evening without even knowing she was dead. She's always been saying that fate is fate and thought that everybody had his or her own time.”

The tragedy has both stunned the large city and united its people. Since the fire, the scene of the tragedy has become a magnet for people paying their respects.

“Shared joy doubles,” says a local priest Andrey Sapsayev, “Shared grief is halved grief. We have to support each other as this is our common sorrow.”

While the somber process continues, the frozen ground near the Lame Horse nightclub continues to be carpeted with flowers, candles and victims' photos.