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At Least 64 Dead In Massive Fire At Siberian Shopping Center


At least 64 people have been killed and many others injured in a massive fire at a shopping center in Siberia.

The death toll from the fire that began on March 25 could still rise as the search progresses through the building in the city of Kemerovo, some 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow.

Emergency services said the fire had now been extinguished but that rescuers were struggling to reach the upper floors because the roof of the building had collapsed.

More than a dozen people were still unaccounted for.

Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleyev declared that families of people killed in the blaze would receive a payment of 1 million rubles ($17,500) in compensation for each fatality.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. Authorities launched a criminal investigation into the tragedy.

Smoke billows from the shopping center on March 25
Smoke billows from the shopping center on March 25

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova to go to Kemerovo to lead the investigation and organize assistance for the injured, his office said.

Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov said that "firefighters and rescuers are risking their lives and health working inside the facility due to its unstable structure and heavy smoke [and] high temperatures."

The Russian Investigative Committee said the blaze appeared to have started in the hallway of a cinema.

"The roof collapsed in two theaters in the cinema," the committee said, adding that about 120 people had been evacuated from the 1,500-square-meter shopping center, which also includes an entertainment complex, a zoo, and several restaurants. It opened in 2013.

Television pictures showed smoke billowing from the building as fire crews worked to evacuate the multistory facility. People were also seen jumping from windows to escape the blaze.

"This shopping center on several floors was packed with people midday [on March 25],” one official said. “No one knows exactly how many people there were inside when the fire broke out."

The Investigative Committee said that 30 people were taken to the hospital for treatment.

It was not clear whether they were suffering from burns or smoke inhalation.

Kemerovo is an industrial city and the capital of a coal-producing region of the same name.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, the BBC, TASS, and RIA Novosti