Four Detained Over China Mall Collapse

Chinese police detained four people today as they launched an inquiry into the collapse of a popular shopping mall in southern China thought to have killed scores of people.

Among the four was the owner of the one-story mall in the Houjie suburb of Dongguan city which crumbled to the ground on Friday as construction workers were illegally adding two more floors, official state media said.

It was the latest accident in a building industry plagued by shoddy work that Premier Zhu Rongji has angrily called “bean curd construction.”

At Least Eight Dead

The official Xinhua news agency put the toll at eight dead and 32 injured.

But some witnesses and local media suggested many more were buried when the mall collapsed as about 200 people milled around its 20 shops, including photograph booths, restaurants and telephone kiosks.

One factory worker who witnessed the collapse said rescuers told him more than 20 bodies were pulled out on Friday night.

Officials gave up hopes of finding survivors the next morning morning and today construction workers and tractors began to clear up the site, strewn with plastic chairs and merchandise from the shops, before a crowd of several hundred onlookers.

“The investigation is going on,” an official in Dongguan city told Reuters by telephone.

Illegal Construction

Police had detained the owner of the shopping mall, its designer and contractor, and the head of Chiling village where it was built, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

It did not say if they would be charged and local officials declined to comment.

But Xinhua said local authorities had not approved the construction work and neither the designer nor the contractor had licenses.

Initial investigations suggested the building’s foundations, built over a drainage ditch, subsided under the weight of the extra storys, other state media said.

One owner of a telephone booth in the mall said his wife alerted the building’s owner just minutes before the collapse when she felt the floor sinking beneath her. She escaped with minor injuries.

“I’ve just come to try and collect my money,” said the shopowner, who identified himself only by his surname Chen, as he surveyed the wreckage.

Post Office Evacuated

Police declined to name the four people detained but a local newspaper, the Xinkuai News, identified the building’s owner as Ye Manling, the designer as Wu Xin and the contractor as Huang Pushen.

The newspaper quoted a construction worker at the mall as saying there were more than 60 builders on the second and third floors when the building collapsed. He said he only saw about 20 escape.

Local authorities also evacuated the six-storey Houjie post office next to the shopping mall, witnesses said. A sign outside said business had been moved to another location because the building was also in danger of collapse.

The Chinese government has been trying to impose higher standards on its construction industry after a series of fatal accidents caused by bad workmanship.

Last year, a Communist Party official was sentenced to death for taking bribes and dereliction of duty after a bridge collapsed and killed 40 people.

Less than a week ago, a bridge collapse in Shenzhen, next door to Hong Kong, injured 19 people, five seriously, the China Daily reported.