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Shanghai blaze stirs anger over China's lax safety

by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) Nov 16, 2010
Shanghai residents voiced anger on Tuesday over a high-rise fire that killed at least 53 people in the latest deadly incident to raise concern over lax safety standards in China.

Monday's blaze has been blamed on unlicensed welders, according to a preliminary investigation cited by the official Xinhua news agency, which said four people were detained in connection with the fire.

It is a familiar story in China where, despite regular campaigns, continued lax observation and enforcement of fire safety measures have made such deadly tragedies a common occurrence.

"Carelessness was one of the reasons for the fire," a 60-year-old man who gave only his surname, Gu, told AFP at an evacuation site set up at a neighbourhood sports centre.

Authorities evacuated Gu and his family from their apartment across from where the fire took place.

The 28-storey building that caught fire, sending black smoke across the city, had been swathed in rickety scaffolding and mesh construction sheeting.

Gu's building is undergoing a similar renovation and he voiced fears over safety at his own residence.

"Since the renovations began there have been cigarette butts everywhere and the materials they are using catch fire very easily," Gu said.

State media reports have cited numerous witnesses saying the fire started on the green construction sheeting and scaffolding that surrounded the building -- and could have easily been avoided with proper safety measures.

The fire also drew accusations of a gulf between standards in the commercial hub's glittering financial skyscrapers and its residential buildings.

"If it was Jinmao Tower or Shanghai World Financial Center, I don't think it would keep burning for so long," local resident Pan Ding, told the China Daily, naming Shanghai's two tallest towers.

"The fire would have been extinguished in half an hour," he said.

The renovations were among thousands of projects that began after Shanghai lifted a moratorium on major construction in the city centre during the six-month World Expo, which ended on October 31.

Cheng Gui, a telecoms company employee who lives near the burned-out building, said government intentions were good -- the renovations were meant to insulate the buildings to make them more energy efficient.

"But the fire safety was not good. A lot of the construction workers would drop cigarettes all over the corridor. We were quite worried," Cheng said.

Luo Qifeng, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Disaster Prevention and Relief, told the China Daily that too often burglary concerns trump fire safety in residential buildings.

"I often see fire doors and fire stairs locked because residents want to guard against burglary, and in some dormitories at universities emergency exits are locked," he said.

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Shanghai fire toll at 53 as relatives search for the missing
Shanghai (AFP) Nov 16, 2010
The death toll from a huge fire that engulfed a high-rise building in Shanghai rose to 53 on Tuesday as anxious relatives searched desperately for news of missing loved ones. The blaze raged for several hours on Monday, causing panicked residents to jump from the inferno or seek refuge on rickety construction scaffolding surrounding the building as thick smoke spread above China's commercial ... read more

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