10 killed in Xinjiang apartment fire
Ten people died and nine were injured in a fire in Xinjiang, northern China, on Friday, under strict lockdowns that have kept many locals in their homes for more than three months.
The fire started Thursday night in Urumqi, where temperatures fell below freezing.
State media indicate flames on the 15th and 17th floors and smoke on the 21st. The fire was extinguished in three hours.
Inhaling hazardous gases caused the deaths and injuries, with those hospitalised expected to survive. Initial investigation suggested a power strip in a 15th-floor bedroom started the incident.
An exiled Uyghur in Switzerland learned from a neighbour that his aunt and four of her children died in the fire.
Abdulhafz Muhammed Emin sobbed during a phone interview, “She was a wonderful woman, always thinking of her children and how to treat and educate them well, My heart is really broken. I cannot bear it.”
China’s zero-COVID policy has led to draconian lockdowns in Xinjiang for more than three months. In recent weeks, rolling lockdowns and travel restrictions have affected hundreds of millions of people.
Videos showing a firetruck’s water arc missing the blaze sparked angry comments online. Some stated fire engines were halted by pandemic control barricades or quarantined cars, although the explanation was unclear.
COVID-19 regulations frustrate many Xinjiang residents. Some claimed hunger in September amid intermittent food supplies.
Muhammed Emin called Xinjiang a “open-air prison.” “Chinese government doesn’t care”
Urumqi Mayor Memtimin Qadir apologised to city people and formed a team to examine the fire.
Urumqi officials said fire escape doors were not locked and people were allowed to go downstairs “for activities” since the community was a “low COVID-19 risk location.”
Li Wensheng, head of Urumqi City Fire Rescue, said “some citizens’ ability to rescue themselves was too weak”
Muhammed Emin contradicted the claim, citing social media posts saying numerous apartment occupants were locked in. Another post indicated people could only go downstairs a few hours a day and couldn’t leave the building. AP couldn’t independently verify social media claims.
Urumqi hasn’t seen a large outbreak recently, with 977 asymptomatic cases recorded Friday. Local officials in China fearing job loss are turning toward more drastic measures to prevent epidemics.
The tragedy occurred days after 38 workers died in a fire at an industrial trading company in central China.
Local authorities requested sweeping safety inspections after the incident in Anyang on Monday.