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Tragedy Strikes After School Gym Roof Collapses in China Killing 11

Published: July 24, 2023
Rescuers work at a school gym after the roof of the building collapsed in Qiqihar, in China's northeastern Heilongjiang province early on July 24, 2023. Ten people have been confirmed killed and one remained trapped after the roof of a school gym collapsed in northeastern China, state media reported. (Image: CNS/AFP via Getty Images)

Eleven people, mostly children, are confirmed dead after the roof of a middle school gym collapsed in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province on Sunday while students were engaged in a volleyball practice. 

The collapse is being blamed on the illegal storage of perlite — a form of volcanic glass — on the gym’s roof. 

Heavy rain in the region led to the perlite to expand and increase in weight causing the roof to collapse, state-run news agency Xinhua reported. 

“A total of 11 people died in the accident,” China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, confirmed. 

Senior leaders of the construction company that stored the materials on the gym’s roof have reportedly been taken into police custody.

The collapse occurred at the No. 34 Middle School just before 3 pm (0700 GMT) on Sunday, Xinhua reported.

According to a local newspaper, the Heilongjiang Daily, a total of 19 people were in the gym at the time of the collapse. Four managed to escape, and four others survived after being pulled from the rubble. 

Among the survivors was the volleyball team’s coach who was found in the rubble calling out the names of the trapped, or deceased children.

Search and rescue operations are still underway, involving nearly 160 firefighters and 39 fire trucks, CCTV reported. 


Prior concerns raised

According to one unnamed source, speaking to state-owned Chongqing News, concerns about how the perlite was stored had been previously raised.

“The gymnasium was built more than 20 years ago, and had long fallen into disrepair in many places,” the source said, adding that, “Everyone was worried that something could happen with all the stuff piled up on the roof.”

Parent’s are distraught, with some of them complaining that information on their loved ones is slow to emerge.

One father blasted the authorities’ response in a video posted to Baidu, a popular social media platform in China.

“They tell me my daughter is gone,” he said, adding that, “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?”

Expressions of anger like this are typically silenced by China’s  communist authorities, with officials fearing social unrest in reaction to tragedy.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has near total control over both the press and mainland social media platforms.