At least 10 people have been killed and more remain trapped after a hotel in south-eastern China that was being used as a coronavirus quarantine centre collapsed late on Saturday, according to state media.
The Ministry of Emergency Management said on Sunday morning that six of 43 victims pulled from the rubble had died, with all but one of the remainder requiring treatment in hospital, and that rescuers were still searching for 28 more people. Chinese state media later revised the death toll to 10.
The Xinjia Express Hotel in the city of Quanzhou, Fujian province, collapsed suddenly around 7:30pm on Saturday, with more than 750 medics and rescuers and 20 ambulances responding to the disaster.
The incident threatens to further inflame public anger over authorities’ handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The hotel, opened in 2018, was one of two quarantine centres in the area and had undergone renovations before Lunar New Year in January, according to local media.
On the evening of 7 March, minutes before the building came down, the owner was reportedly told by construction workers that a pillar on the first floor had been damaged, according to Xinhua news agency. The Quanzhou Public Security Bureau has said that the hotel owner, a man surnamed Yang, has been detained for investigation.
On Chinese social media, internet users demanded an investigation. “The Quanzhou government must be scrutinised! This is not a natural disaster. This is a man-made disaster!” one said. “Gravely hold those responsible accountable,” another said, quoting a phrase often used by Chinese officials.
“Tofu construction,” several users commented, a term that emerged when an earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 caused many school buildings to collapse while other structures remained standing. “How could this happen now? This is really disaster upon disaster,” another said.
The central government has sent an emergency working team, part of a committee for working safety under the State Council, China’s cabinet. State media have focused on the rescue efforts of emergency workers.
Videos posted online showed rescue workers in orange overalls clambering over the rubble of the collapsed hotel and carrying people toward ambulances. One showed a fireman walking away from the wreckage carrying a toddler, and a Sunday morning post on the People’s Daily’s microblog said a man was pulled from rubble while his wife and child were still trapped. Videos also showed firefighters being disinfected and exhausted emergency workers sleeping on the road outside the emergency site.
A statement from the Licheng district government earlier on Saturday said that people who came from other regions badly hit by coronavirus were required to stay at this hotel for observation.
A report on Beijing News quoted a government worker as saying that Xinjia Express Hotel was one of two quarantine centres in the area.
On Saturday, witnesses said they heard a loud bang while having dinner and thought it was an explosion, before realising the six-storey hotel building opposite them had collapsed, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK reported. They said there were many shops in the lower floors of the building.
After the building collapsed, rubble scattered around the area and large numbers of firefighters and medics were at the scene searching for people trapped, said the report.
“After hearing the loud bang, I ran out of the store and could only see dust on the street. When the dust settled, I found the building had collapsed,” an employee at a bakery next to the hotel told Caixin.com.
He said “the building collapsed like a chopstick falling slantwise to the ground” and that it had happened very suddenly.
Efforts were being made to minimise casualties and prevent secondary accidents, Global Times quoted officials at the Ministry of Emergency Management as saying.
China, where the new virus first emerged in December, has confirmed more than 80,000 cases, by far the most in the world.
China reported 99 new cases on Saturday, its first daily increase of less than 100 since 20 January. The government reported 28 new fatalities, raising the mainland death toll to 3,070.