Girls playing netball killed as school gym collapses in China

Authorities say illegal stacking of materials on school roof may have caused collapse that killed at least 11 people.

The concrete roof of a school gymnasium has collapsed in a city in China’s northeast, killing at least 11 people, many of whom were young girls playing netball, according to reports.

The collapse at the No 34 Middle School in Longsha District in Qiqihar, located in China’s Heilongjiang province, was reported at 2:56pm (06:56 GMT) on Sunday, according to the provincial fire and rescue department, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Initially, 15 people were trapped underneath the rubble, and Xinhua said authorities pulled out the last remaining person, a student with no vital signs, on Monday morning.

A female volleyball team was training in the gymnasium when the incident happened, a father told China Youth Daily as he waited anxiously at the local hospital for news of his 16-year-old daughter.

“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 state radio.

It was not immediately clear if any victims included adults.

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.
Initially, 15 people were reported trapped beneath the rubble at the No 34 Middle School in Longsha District in Qiqihar [CNS Photo/ AFP]

There were 19 people at the gymnasium when the accident occurred, with four managing to escape, authorities said.

In a video that went viral on social media, an angry father complained that the government sent police to keep a watch on parents but did not send anyone to update them about their children.

“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?” the man said.

An overhead aerial view of the scene from social media pictures showed a completely collapsed roof with rescue workers in the gym next to large boulders of concrete.

Other pictures showed large cranes hoisted on the side of the school building as rescue efforts were still ongoing.

The region and several parts of China had heavy rain this weekend, causing flooding and damage in some areas.

A preliminary investigation found that construction workers illegally placed perlite, a mineral with high water content and which can absorb water, on the gymnasium roof while constructing a teaching building adjacent to the gymnasium, Xinhua reported.

Under persistent rains, the perlite soaked up water and gained weight, resulting in the roof collapse, state media said.

An in-depth investigation is ongoing, and individuals in charge of the construction company have been taken into police custody, Xinhua said.

Source: News Agencies