Young children, entire families perished in Russia mall fire


Kemerovo (Russia) (AFP)

At least 64 people -- including 41 children -- died when a huge fire ravaged a mall in the coal-mining city of Kemerovo in western Siberia on Sunday.

Some parents lost all their children in the blaze and the youngest victim was just two years old.

- 'Half of class' -

Six girls who were in the same class at school in the nearby village of Treshchevsky perished. They had arrived in Kemerovo to mark the start of the spring break.

The children were watching "Peter Rabbit", an animated comedy film, on the top floor of the mall when the fire broke out. But the doors were locked, trapping the movie-goers inside.

"Tell my mum that I loved her," schoolgirl Viktoria Pochankina, 11, told her aunt by phone in her final moments, Komsomolskaya Pravda daily reported.

- 'We stood there and prayed' -

Dmitry Baranov lost almost all of his family: his two young children, mother, sister and niece. The family lived in the Siberian city of Tomsk but had come to Kemerovo to visit relatives.

On Sunday he had stayed home while the rest of the family -- including his 12-year-old son Artyom, 8-year-old daughter Arina and 4-year-old niece Ulyana -- went to the cinema.

When he learnt of the blaze he rushed to the mall but it was too late. "By that time they had already put a cordon around the building," Moskovsky Komsomolets daily quoted him as saying.

"Firefighters were leaving the building covered in soot and we stood there and prayed. After that a uniformed man came up to us and said that it was impossible to get to the cinema halls because of the noxious fumes and high temperatures."

It took firefighters 12 hours to get inside the cinema at the heart of the blaze, Baranov said.

- Three daughters -

Alexander Ananyev and his wife Olga Lillevyali lost their three daughters -- Maya and Ksenia, both 11, and five-year-old Valeria -- who were also watching cartoons at the mall on Sunday.

Ananyev made several attempts to reach the cinema where his children were.

"I decided to crawl to the cinema along the corridor, but I hardly managed 20 metres," he told Moskovsky Komsomolets.

He then asked firefighters to help him reach the children but they ignored his pleas and ran in an opposite direction, he said.

"We lost the precious first moments when people could have been saved."