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    Qiqihar School Roof Collapse Kills 11, Girl Volleyball Players Among Victims

    The gymnasium roof collapsed under the weight of construction materials from another school building under renovation, a preliminary investigation has found.
    Jul 24, 2023#crime

    Eleven people have died after a school gymnasium roof collapsed in the northeast Heilongjiang province on Sunday. According to state broadcaster CCTV, there were 19 people in the gymnasium at the time, with four people escaping on their own. 

    As of Monday morning, all 19 people are accounted for following overnight rescue efforts. 

    Local rescue services received reports of the roof collapse at the No 34 Middle School in the city of Qiqihar at 2:56 p.m. on Sunday. Several witnesses told domestic outlet that the school’s girls’ volleyball team was training in the gymnasium when the ceiling collapsed.

    According to state media Xinhua News, a preliminary investigation found that the roof collapsed under the weight of perlite construction materials placed on it from another nearby school building under construction, which was made heavier by rain.

    A video circulating online shows construction workers moving bags of materials on the roof last winter, while local reports say the gymnasium was constructed 26 years ago. An in-depth investigation is underway.

    Local police have detained the person in charge of the construction team for the school building, Xinhua reported. Liu Zhijun, deputy chief architect of Jiangsu Architectural Design and Research Institute, told domestic outlet Jiemian News that it is illegal to store perlite on a building’s roof. 

    Provincial officials have pledged to carry out checks on building safety in other schools and public sports venues. 

    “The gymnasium was built in the 1990s. It is still constantly used now for students’ physical education classes, as well as serving as a training venue for both the school’s volleyball teams and those outside the school,” Jing Bo, a parent of a seventh-grade student at the school, told Sixth Tone.

    Jing’s child was not at school as it is summer vacation. But the incident has still shaken him. 

    A widely circulated video online filmed at a local hospital shows a victim’s father expressing his anger at not receiving timely updates about their children’s situation, a sentiment echoed by other victims’ family members in the video. 

    Women’s volleyball has a long tradition in Qiqihar, the second-largest city in the province with a population of more than 5 million people. According to Jiao Haochi, a resident of the city, the No 34 Middle School’s girls’ volleyball team is well-known locally for training exceptional young talent. 

    Heilongjiang has seen a series of public safety incidents in recent months. On Saturday, an agricultural aircraft crashed in Hegang City in northern Heilongjiang, killing the two people on board. In May, a tenant’s illegal gym construction led to the evacuation of more than 240 families. 

    On Sunday evening, the province’s vice governor Wang Yixin called for greater efforts to tackle the province’s “recent string of incidents.” 

    Editor: Vincent Chow. 

    (Header image: A surveillance camera shows the collapsed gymnasium in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, July 23, 2023. VCG)