Victims of deadly Chinese high school gymnasium roof collapse, mostly members of girls’ volleyball team

Prosecutors in northeastern China are opening criminal charges against construction managers accused of collapsing the roof of a high school gymnasium that killed 11 people.

Chinese school roof collapse

Rescuers search for trapped victims on the roof of a collapsed middle school gymnasium in Qiqihar, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, Monday, July 24, 2023, in this photo released by Xinhua News Agency. More than 10 people were killed when the roof of a high school gymnasium collapsed, authorities in northeastern China said Monday. (Zhang Tao/Xinhua via AP)

The Associated Press

BEIJING — Prosecutors in northeastern China are prosecuting executives of a construction company accused of causing the roof of a high school gymnasium to collapse, killing 11 people.

State media released few details on the incident and casualties on Tuesday, but said 19 people were inside the facility when the concrete roof collapsed, including two coaches and 17 players.

Fifteen people were trapped in the ruins after the collapse of secondary school No. 34 on Sunday afternoon, the last victim was found only on Monday morning.

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According to the first investigation, construction crews working in the new administrative building next to the gymnasium were storing bags of perlite for plastering and interior finishing work on the roof, which has been hampered by recent heavy rains that have hit much of the country, especially the northwest.

After the incident, social media and news portal Baidu posted footage of angry parents complaining about what they say was the authorities’ slow response and lack of communication. On Tuesday, Baidu released photos and video accounts of players under the headline “I lost my best friends.”

The official investigation into the cause of the disaster has begun. School design and construction have been questioned in the past, from the massive collapse of classrooms that killed thousands in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to the provision of running tracks in Beijing schools that released toxic gases.

Such expressions of anger and defiance are usually quickly suppressed by police and government agencies concerned about social unrest. The ruling Communist Party refuses to allow its authority to be challenged and seeks to maintain total control over the press and social media.

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Construction and industrial accidents are a regular occurrence in China, largely due to companies ignoring safety regulations and corruption or lack of diligence on the part of local government agencies.

These problems are particularly acute in cities like Qiqihar, located in China’s Rust Belt province of Heilongjiang, bordering Russia, which has seen large-scale economic decline and emigration in recent years.