At least 11 people have died, many of whom are believed to be children, after the concrete roof of a school gym collapsed in the Chinese city of Qiqihar on Sunday while a women’s volleyball team played inside.
Witnesses said there was “nowhere to hide” for those inside the building, which footage shows had completely collapsed, possibly under the weight of materials illegally stacked on top.
Amid the horror, the coach of the high school team was found alive by rescuers searching through the rubble after hearing him yell the girls’ names.
The disastrous collapse of the No. 34 High School in Longsha County, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, was reported at 2:56 p.m. (0656 GMT) on Sunday, according to the provincial fire and rescue department.
Devastated parents waited at the local hospital for news of their daughters, including a man claiming to be the father of a dead student who said there had been no updates from authorities on his daughters for hours.
Witnesses said there was “nowhere to hide” for those inside the building, which footage shows had completely collapsed.
Rescuers comb rubble at the collapse site in Qiqihar
Firefighters carry equipment during a rescue operation at the site where the roof of a school gym collapsed
The devastated coach was found yelling the names of his students by rescuers searching through the rubble.
In a video widely shared on social media, the angry father complained that the government sent police to keep an eye on the parents, but sent no one to report on their children.
“They tell me that my daughter has left but that we never got to see the girl. All the children had their faces covered in mud and blood when they were sent to the hospital. I begged, please let me identify the child. What if that wasn’t my son?’ the man said.
Initially, 15 people were trapped under the rubble and state media learned at 10 am (2 am GMT) that authorities had removed the last remaining person, a student, who had no vital signs.
It was not immediately clear if any of the other victims included adults.
‘The team consisted of selected students from different grades. They had just returned to school a few days ago after an out-of-town competition,” a witness told state radio.
A family member told reporters in a state-backed news outlet that her niece was a member of the school’s girls’ volleyball team and was training in the gym at the time of the incident.
There were 19 people in the gym when the accident occurred and four managed to escape, authorities said.
The footage showed large cranes hoisted on the side of the school building while rescue efforts were still underway.
The roof of a gymnasium at Qiqihar No.34 High School collapsed at 2:56 pm on July 23.
Several emergency vehicles were photographed as the scene as the death toll mounted on Sunday.
An aerial aerial view of the scene from social media footage showed a completely collapsed roof with rescuers in the gym next to large concrete boulders.
Other images showed large cranes being hoisted onto the side of the school building while rescue efforts were still underway.
The region and various parts of China experienced heavy rain this weekend, causing flooding and damage in some areas.
A preliminary investigation found that construction workers illegally placed perlite, a mineral with a high water content and can absorb water, on the gym’s roof during the construction of a teaching building adjacent to the gym, Xinhua reported.
Under persistent rains, the perlite absorbed water and gained weight, causing the roof to collapse, state media said.
A user on Weibo, China’s popular social media platform, commented: “How can the relevant department not understand the common sense that heavy objects cannot be placed on the roof? This should be thoroughly investigated.
A thorough investigation is underway and the people in charge of the construction company have been taken into police custody, Xinhua said.