A hospital building disaster in Kashgar city in western China’s Xinjiang region may have resulted in more casualties than previously believed, with sources saying Thursday that dozens may have died.
Earlier this week, police in Kashgar had reported no deaths and only 10 injuries from the collapse of scaffolding when workers were constructing a multistory extension at the City Number One Hospital in Yawagh district.
But a source told RFA’s Uyghur Service on Thursday that he had received information indicating that at least 70 people may have been crushed under the weight of the falling debris and that less than half of them were rescued in the initial relief efforts.
The source also included several photos, purportedly from the scene of the collapse, that appear to have been taken with a cell phone.
“Seventy to 80 people” may have been hit by the falling debris, the source said in an email.
According to “friend” at the hospital, only 25 people were rescued immediately, according to the source. It is not known whether subsequent rescue efforts had saved more lives.
Another source from Xinjiang told RFA in an email that initial unconfirmed reports had put the death toll at 40.
Earlier this week, representatives of the hospital refused to confirm or deny that there were fatalities, saying only that the scaffoldings gave way due to “strong winds.”
Residents had said earlier that up to eight people may have been killed and more than 20 others injured—most of whom were patients at the hospital, caregivers, and visitors—when the scaffoldings came crashing down from the building where 10 of 20 stories had been completed.
They said that the hospital “prevented visitors for two days after the mishap,” and that “information was restricted following warnings from police and officials.”
The incident had gone unreported for more than two weeks in Xinjiang, where information is tightly controlled amid persistent tensions between ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese.
A resident told RFA on Wednesday that news of the accident had been strictly blocked because the construction company working on the building was Chinese-owned and based outside of the region, leading authorities to fear that the information could stoke ethnic tensions in predominantly Uyghur Kashgar.
Other sources in the region said that the company was likely Chinese-owned because it is rare for Uyghur firms to win construction contracts of such magnitude.
Local police refused to confirm the name of the company or its owner while discussing details of the incident.
Reported by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Shohret Hoshur. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.