Chinese Kindergarten Building 'Failed Inspection' Ahead of Blaze: Tenant

china-kindergarten-09172015.jpg Children are evacuated from a fire in a kindergarten in Ningde in southeastern China's Fujian Province, Sept. 16, 2015.
Photo courtesy of a witness.

A privately run kindergarten in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian that caught fire, forcing teachers and bystanders to break windows and throw children out of them, had previously failed its safety inspection, a tenant of the building told RFA.

More than 100 people, most of them children, were sent to hospital after the fire engulfed the kindergarten in Juchi Plaza, in Fujian's Ningde city, at around 11.27 a.m. on Wednesday, official media reported.

Residents stepped in to help save students and teachers at the kindergarten in Ningde's Jiaocheng district after they became trapped on the second floor of the plaza, media reports and eyewitnesses said.

After it became clear that the stairs were impassible, teachers and bystanders smashed the windows of the kindergarten with bricks and other objects, throwing the children into the waiting arms of rescuers below, an eyewitnesses told RFA.

"When I got there, the fire hadn't spread very far yet, but the place was in total chaos, with a lot of local people rushing in to help rescue [the kids]," a business owner in the same building surnamed Li told RFA.

"There is only one staircase in the building, and they couldn't get down it, so they started smashing the windows, with the help of bystanders," Li said.

Video shot by another bystander showed adults running from a burning building with inert toddlers, while others straddled the broken window, flinging young children out at speed, where they landed on a piece of cloth stretched out by the crowd.

According to Li, "a few" children were seriously hurt, although it was unclear whether this was from smoke inhalation or injuries from falling.

"They haven't mentioned this on the news," Li said, adding that police had cordoned off the area after rescue services extinguished the fire on Wednesday afternoon.

Failed safety checks

Li said the building where the kindergarten was located had previously failed health and safety checks.

"That building hadn't passed its fire safety inspection; it's a shoddy piece of construction," he said. "When the kindergarten opened a couple of years ago, we told the fire department about our concerns, but they never took any remedial measures."

"I don't know how they were able to keep going like that," he said.

Calls to the Ningde municipal government and to the city's Jiaocheng district rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

According to local media reports, the fire started at an underground flower shop and quickly spread to the second floor of the building where some 300 children were in class.

Chinese kindergartens have been at the center of a spate of health and safety scandals in recent years, including knife attacks, forced medication and mass poisoning, prompting protests from angry parents.

In March 2014, China ordered a nationwide probe into safety at its kindergartens amid growing public outrage at the secret medication of pupils by some institutions and a slew of poisonings that left at least two children dead.

Local governments were ordered to inspect schools, particularly kindergartens, to check if they were illegally administering any medicine, the health ministry said.

Parents protested across China after their children suffered stomachaches, muscular pains, and dizziness after being dosed with an antiviral medication given without their consent.

In 2010, the government ordered a nationwide security clampdown around schools after a string of deadly attacks on young children and staff in kindergartens.

The order came after a man went on the rampage with kitchen cleaver at a Shaanxi kindergarten, leaving nine people dead, seven of them small children.

The Chinese public was still reeling after the horrific attack, which left children as young as three years old with deep cleaver wounds to the head, when a second attack in Shandong's Zibo city killed three kindergarteners.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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