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Residents of Kemerovo recalling tragedy at shopping mall

First funerals of the victims began

KEMEROVO, March 29. /TASS/. The day of nationwide mourning for the victims of shopping mall fire in the Siberian city of Kemerovo coincided on Wednesday with the second day of mourning in the Kemerovo region, a TASS reporter said in an account of the situation in the city.

First funerals of the victims began. The requiem services at the city’s churches drew crowds of people who had come to pay last respects to those whose lives had been claimed by the stunning fire. The numbers of people wishing to bid final farewell to the casualties were so big that queues formed at the entrances of some of the churches.

Residents of the city, many of them weeping, spoke about the surreal character of the tragedy.

"Well, how this could happen? There isn’t any war around," said the pensioner Anna Alexandrovna, who had come to pay last respects to an acquaintance. "People have been plucked out of life. And their families’ lives are broken now. You have a really bitter feeling when the whole family died but someone remained alive. And we know such cases".

Yevgeny Balashov, a cab driver, said he received a phone call from a friend on the day of the tragedy. The man had managed to get out of the blazing building of the Zimnyaya Vishnya [Winter Cherry]. Yevgeny picked up the friend and also brought an unknown woman with two children to his home.

"I took them to my home and then wanted to go back and to pick up someone else but the approaches [to the mall] had been sealed off already and I saw firefighters at work," he said. "I also saw the flames that were breaking out the building through the crevices between the structural panels."

He did not sleep a wink at night and sat in front of the TV watching news.

People continued bringing flowers to the mall. The bench closest to the entrance got filled with flowers, candles and toys too soon and additional benches appeared around it. Olga Yerofeyeva brought a third bouquet of red carnations to the place. She herself was inside the shopping mall together with her two sons when the blaze swept the building but they were lucky to get out into the street.

"We spoke about buying some ice cream and I decided to go downstairs to the ATM machines and to withdraw some cash and I realized the fire had begun when was there," Olga said. "The distance to the door was short enough and we ran out. Now it sends chills down the spine when I think what might have happened if I hadn’t gotten downstairs to get cash.

All the eyewitnesses say the flames broke out of the building in the twinkle of an eye. "You could get an impression someone had set off a bomb inside," said Sarkis Khumaryan. He came to the shopping mall after he figured out the building caught blaze when his son and grandson were inside. He rushed to the place to find out where they could be.

The result was highly depressing - he lost them and turned up at hospital himself eventually after poisoning with carbon monoxide.

"My son and grandson went to the movie house on Sunday and then I got a phone call from my wife who asked me to go to Zimnyaya Vishnya and to find out anything about them because they might have been trapped in the blazing mall," Khumaryan said. "When we came there it was like a nightmare. The firefighters were shouting that a wall might tumble any second. And we spent the whole night there."

Members of a spearhead group of the survivors’ relatives visited several foster homes in the Kemerovo region on Wednesday to verify the rumors that some orphaned children might have died in the shopping mall.

"We went to five foster homes," said Rasim Yaraliyev. "We checked all the children there and they are safe and sound. Also, we received full information from our assistants who had spoken to local residents."

Information in the social networks suggested earlier that some eyewitnesses had sighted a bus from a foster home near the mall. Yaraliyev said the bus was really supposed to take the children to Zimnyaya Vishnya last Sunday but a lucky chance saved them.

"There was no bus there," he said. "The foster home had a program for Sunday and they wanted to take the children for entertainment. But a lucky chance came to their rescue - the officials who could sign a permission for the transportation of [a group of] children were absent from their workplaces and the kids stood at home in the final run.".