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5 Dec, 2009 17:20

Raging inferno: Nightclub fire claims over a 100 lives

More than 100 people have been killed and dozens more injured in a nightclub blaze in the Russian city of Perm. The country’s president ordered a thorough investigation into the tragic incident.

At least 120 people have been hospitalized, with most said to be in a critical condition. Doctors say that 61 are on ventilators, and medical officials are urging local residents to donate blood.

Emergency planes are bringing the wounded to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Chelyabinks for treatment. Meanwhile another planeload of doctors, psychologists and medical equipment has landed in Perm.

The fire started at around 1a.m. local time, when more than 200 people were gathered to celebrate the club's eighth anniversary. Most victims are said to have died from smoke inhalation, severe burns and during the ensuing crush as people fought to escape.

A preliminary investigation indicates that the fire was most likely caused by fireworks used during the celebration.

“The emergency situation took place at about 1.30 in the morning in the club. As far as we know, more than 200 people were present. Use of unlicensed fireworks caused the fire and smoke,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Valery Gribakin told RT.

Official reactions and measures taken

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered Premier Putin to form a governmental investigative commission. The commission is also being called upon to help those hurt in the fire, as well as the relatives of the dead.

Emergency Ministry head Sergey Shoigu, as well as Minister of Health and Social Development Tatyana Golikova and Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, arrived in Perm on Saturday. They assisted with the devastation caused by the fire and helped the victims of the tragedy.

“The club owners had been fined twice for violating safety rules. The last inspection was exactly a year ago. The next one was to take place on Monday,” stated Shoigu, talking to journalists on Saturday.

President Medvedev also ordered the Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika, to conduct a thorough investigation into the tragedy, saying that although the crime was not premeditated, its consequences are nonetheless very serious. A lot of people have been killed. And the culprits have to be held responsible.

“These people,” Medvedev said, ”have neither brains nor conscience, they were totally indifferent to what was happening. I saw in some reports that they even tried to disappear. We will need to punish them as harshly as possible.”

Police have arrested the owner and the manager of the “Lame Horse” nightclub in Perm, Anatoly Zak and Svetlana Yefremova. They have been accused of breaching fire safety rules and may face up to seven years in jail.

"They are being questioned by investigators. In addition, four other suspects have been identified. Measures are now being taken to have them arrested," Investigation Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told RIA Novosti.

The reasons behind the tradegy

Gennady Gudkov from the Safety Committee of the State Duma, says that there’s no clear regulation of fireworks in Russia, but the main problem remains – fire fighting and evacuation procedures need to be improved dramatically.

“Most of our theaters, shopping centers and other public facilities simply lack the necessary equipment,” Gudkov says. “Innovations designed to help save lives are not being implemented. The quality and professionalism of security guards is often very low. They are incapable of evacuating people. All this needs to be changed to prevent people from dying in fires again.”

Yury Berladin, director of Moscow's Fireworks Theatre, says the club in Perm should never have been used to stage a show like this.

“There was a mismatch between the facility and the kind of pyrotechnic products that were used there," Berladin says. "I am sure there were also many violations as far as the club construction was concerned. How can they use so many flammable materials when building a nightclub? Those who were signing the papers should have taken all that into consideration… Premises meant for mass gatherings are also supposed to meet certain standards. Evacuation procedures and facilities must be in place.”

“It was wrong to use any kind of fireworks in a building with a flammable ceiling made of wood and plastic,” Anatoly Vorobyev, vice-president of the Russian Pyrotechnics Association, told RT.

Russian stunt man Igor Panin says that during a fire it’s better to wait for help while remaining close to the floor and find a wet cloth or take off a tee-shirt to protect yourself from inhaling smoke.

“Instead of running in panic, staying down is essential," Panin told RT. "Also, running increases the risk of being crushed. So, people would be better to go to the toilets, closer to water, and eventually hide behind the toilet bowl, rather than rush to the exit and find themselves in a mosh pit…”

Not the first fire tragedy

The blast at the Perm club is not the first tragic fire to strike Russian nightclubs in recent years.

Last month, a blaze in a nightclub in the Russian city of Kazan killed two people and injured 27, with arson the suspected cause.
In February 2008, an elite night club in Moscow burned down. No one was killed but three people suffered serious injuries and an investigation showed it was caused by negligent wiring.

In that same month, a blaze that followed a blast at a club in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk killed four and destroyed most of the building.

In March 2007, ten people were killed at a Moscow club when a person putting on a fire show accidentally set himself on fire.

Accidents similar to the Perm fire happened in the United States, said RT contributor Wayne Madsen.