At least 11 people, many of them believed to be children, were killed after the concrete roof of a school gym collapsed in the Chinese city of Qiqihar on Sunday while a girls’ volleyball team was playing inside.
Witnesses said there was nowhere to hide for those inside the building, which photos show may have completely sunk under the weight of materials illegally stacked on top.
In a panic, the middle school team coach was found alive by rescuers clawing through the rubble after he heard the girls calling out their names.
The catastrophic collapse occurred at No. 34 Middle School in Longsha District in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province at 2.56 pm (06.56 GMT) on Sunday, the provincial fire and rescue department said.
Devastated parents waited at local hospitals for news of their daughters, including one claiming to be the dead student’s father who said they had received no updates from authorities about their daughters for hours.
Witnesses said that those inside the building had no place to hide, that the images were completely hidden.
Rescue workers comb through the rubble at the Kikihare collapse site
Firefighters transport equipment during a rescue operation where the roof of a school gymnasium collapsed
Rescuers waded through the rubble to see the devastated coach calling out his student’s name
In a video widely shared on social media, the angry father alleged that the government sent police to keep an eye on the parents but did not send anyone to update them about their children.
‘They told me my daughter was gone but we never saw the child. All the children’s faces were covered in mud and blood when they were sent to the hospital. Please let me identify the child, I begged. What if my child is not? said the man.
Initially 15 people were trapped under the rubble and state media said at 10am (2am GMT) that authorities had found the last remaining person, a student, with no vital signs.
It was not immediately clear if the other victims included adults.
‘The team consists of selected students from different grades. They had only returned to school a few days ago after a competition outside the city,’ an eyewitness told state radio.
A family member told reporters at a state-backed media outlet that her niece is a member of the school’s women’s volleyball team and was training at the gym at the time of the incident.
Of the 19 people in the gymnasium at the time of the crash, four managed to escape, authorities said.
Pictures show large cranes being hoisted on the side of the school building as rescue operations are still underway
At 2:56 pm on July 23rd, the roof of a gymnasium collapsed at Middle School No. 34 in Kikihar.
Several emergency vehicles were pictured at the scene as the death toll rose on Sunday
An overhead aerial view of the scene from social media photos showed a completely collapsed roof with rescue workers in the gym next to large concrete boulders.
Other images show large cranes being hoisted alongside the school building as rescue operations continue.
The region and several parts of China received heavy rainfall this weekend, causing flooding and damage in some areas.
A preliminary investigation found that construction workers illegally placed perlite, a mineral with high water content and that can absorb water, on the roof of the gymnasium during the construction of a teaching building adjacent to the gymnasium, Xinhua reported.
Amid constant rain, the perlite soaked in water and gained weight, causing the roof to collapse, state media reported.
A user on China’s popular social media platform Weibo commented, ‘How can the relevant department not understand the common sense that you can’t put heavy things on the roof? It should be thoroughly investigated.’
An in-depth investigation is underway and those in charge of the construction company have been taken into police custody, Xinhua reported.
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