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China quarantine hotel collapse toll jumps to 20

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Beijing (AFP)

The death toll from the collapse of a hotel used as a coronavirus quarantine facility in eastern China has risen to 20, authorities said Tuesday, with 10 others still feared trapped in the rubble.

Forty-one survivors pulled from the wreckage are injured, the Ministry of Emergency Management said at a press conference Tuesday.

The building in the coastal city of Quanzhou had been repurposed to house people who had recently been in regions hard hit by COVID-19, according to local newspaper Quanzhou Evening News.

The hotel collapsed on Saturday night, with footage published by local media appearing to show the building's facade crumbling to the ground in seconds, exposing the structure's steel frame.

The city has recorded 47 cases of the virus.

Video posted online Tuesday by the Ministry of Emergency Management showed rescuers bowing over the body of a victim, with one rescuer breaking down in tears and having to step away from the scene.

Earlier footage from the ministry showed rescuers helping children put on surgical masks before pulling them from the remains of the six-storey Xinjia hotel.

A 12-year-old boy told rescuers his mother was still buried in the rubble.

"She was next to me just now," he said in the video. His mother was rescued alive hours later, according to the ministry.

Rescuers were also seen spraying disinfectant on each other as part of "strict decontamination" measures between shifts.

Besides the 61 people pulled out of the wreckage, nine others escaped on their own, the ministry said.

The first floor had been undergoing renovation since before the Lunar New Year holiday, and authorities said construction workers called the hotel's owner minutes before the collapse to report a deformed pillar.

The owner has been summoned by police while investigators work to determine whether the renovation or an original structural issue was at fault, according to the ministry.

Quanzhou Evening News reported Sunday that all of the people quarantined in the hotel had tested negative for the virus.

The emergency management ministry said some 200 local and 800 Fujian Province firefighters had been deployed to the scene along with 11 search and rescue teams and seven rescue dogs, according to Xinhua.

The National Health Commission said it had dispatched to Quanzhou 18 medical experts from the nearby cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen.

China is no stranger to building collapses and deadly construction accidents that are typically blamed on the country's rapid growth leading to corner-cutting by builders and the widespread flouting of safety rules.

At least 20 people died in 2016 when a series of crudely-constructed multi-storey buildings packed with migrant workers collapsed in the eastern city of Wenzhou.

Another 10 were killed last year in Shanghai after the collapse of a commercial building during renovations.

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