Flowers laid for blaze victims as city mourns

08:46, November 17, 2010      

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The city of Shanghai fell into mourning for the 53 victims of the fire that engulfed a downtown high-rise residential building on Tuesday.

Bouquets of white chrysanthemums and lilies, sent by local residents and expats, were left at a memorial that was erected at the scene of the fire.

"I wanted to bring flowers for those who passed away," said 22-year-old student Nikta Ryzantseew, from Russia, who placed lilies outside the building.

"In my country, sending flowers and candles is the traditional way to lament the dead," she said.

Ryzantseew lives with two other Russians, who are also students at Donghua University, in an apartment within two kilometers of the fire.

Psychological counseling and medical treatment have been provided for survivors of Monday afternoon's blaze, Li Weiping, vice-director of the Shanghai health bureau, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

According to officials, 126 people injured in the fire had been sent to hospitals, where 70 of them remained hospitalized and in need of further treatment.

The eldest patient is 85 years old and the youngest is 3. More than a half of them are over 50.

The majority of the patients are in stable condition, though 15 of them, 10 men and five women, are critical. Most of them are suffering from smoke inhalation.

Tokens of remembrance for the deceased accumulated in front of the charred building by Tuesday afternoon.

Police later blocked access to the site and nearby communities as a security measure. Those who want to place flowers at the memorial must ask the police for permission.

"I always walk my dog with some residents of the building on open ground nearby, so I know many of them," said a 47-year-old woman, surnamed Yang, who lives in the neighborhood.

"There was a foreigner standing here next to me, staring at the building with a heartbroken expression, as if one of his friends or relatives was inside. I wanted to comfort him so much that I wished I could speak English, one or two words would have helped," she said.

Dressed in black, some people stood in silence on the street next to the shell of the building on Tuesday afternoon, watching it for hours.

"They cried a river last night when they learned that some of their family members were killed in the fire," said a local newsstand owner. "It is so difficult for them to accept what has happened."

Chen Lei, a psychological counselor who lives in neighboring Jiangning Street, came to the evacuation center to offer free counseling to survivors and relatives of the deceased.

The tragedy is quite similar to the traumatic Wenchuan earthquake, which took place two years ago, she said.

Another psychologist, Zheng Anline, has been assisting colleagues in providing counseling to survivors and their families at the Donghua Hospital since Monday night.

"Some patients had irregular heartbeats due to the terror and anxiety," Zheng said.

All of the patients at the hospital are suffering from respiratory tract burns.

Chen Zhen, a nurse in the hospital's ICU department, said the survivors hardly spoke on Monday night.

Gu Chongchao, a 20-year-old survivor who used to live on 19th floor of the burnt-out building, said he is worried about how he will carry on with his life after the fire.

"I don't know what will happen to my family in the future, since all of our belongings perished in the blaze," he said.

As the tragedy sinks in, the survivors may show more anxiety and depression in the next couple of weeks when they think more about the losses - human and financial - they have incurred, Zheng said.

Residents who live near the hallowed-out building and witnessed the fire may also need counseling.

"Those who feel terrified, depressed and anxious after the fire can seek professional help," he said.

By Shi Yingying and Wu Yiyao, China Daily


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