China school gym roof collapse toll rises to 11 as anguished parents throng hospital

Most victims believed to be girls’ volleyball team players

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 25 July 2023 10:08 BST
Eleven die after middle school roof collapses in China

Eleven people, most of them said to be primarily young female athletes, died after the roof of a gymnasium in a middle school in China collapsed.

The incident took place at the No. 34 Middle School in China’s far northeast in Qiqihar city on Sunday, with rescue operations continuing till Monday morning.

State media reported on Tuesday that 19 people were inside the gymnasium when the concrete roof collapsed. The victims of the fatal middle school gymnasium roof collapse were primarily members of the girls’ volleyball team.

There were two coaches and 17 players among them. Eleven died, four sustained injuries and four others escaped. The identities of the victims, however, have not been disclosed yet.

State-run Xinhua News Agency reported that the probable cause of the collapse was construction work at the school. Workers had stored materials on the gym’s roof, leading it to absorb rainwater.

Following the Sunday afternoon collapse, reports said several individuals were trapped in the rubble.

According to the initial investigation, a construction crew working on a new administrative building adjacent to the gymnasium had stored bags of perlite, used in plastering and internal finishing work, on the gym’s roof.

Local reports said the accumulated water from recent heavy rains, particularly prevalent in the northwest region of the country, had made the perlite bags heavy, contributing to the tragic incident.

“The team consisted of students selected from different grades. They had just returned to the school a few days ago after a competition out-of-town,” an eyewitness told China’s Youth Daily newspaper.

On Tuesday, photos and video testimonials of other players were widely shared on Chinese social media platforms as anguished parents demanded accountability and complained of a lack of communication by the authorities.

Video footage showed furious parents expressing their frustration about what they perceived to be a slow response and inadequate communication from authorities.

“They tell me my daughter is gone but we never got to see the child. All the children had their faces covered with mud and blood when they were sent to the hospital. I pleaded, please let me identify the child. What if that wasn’t my child?” a father of a girl was quoted as saying by local media cited by Reuters.

While reports did not provide specific ages for all the victims, local media interviews with parents of the girls’ volleyball team members mentioned at least two of the victims were 15 and 16 years old.

The parents voiced their concerns regarding handling the situation and demanded more transparency and accountability in the aftermath of the incident, local reports said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in northeastern China are pressing criminal charges against the construction managers held responsible for the roof collapse.

Last month, an explosion occurred at a barbecue restaurant in northwestern China, claiming the lives of 31 people.

In response Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged a nationwide campaign to prioritise and promote workplace safety and called on all regions to “screen for and rectify all types of risks and hidden dangers”.

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