Investigators probe renovations at collapsed coronavirus hotel in China

Frank Tang

A government team is investigating whether ground-floor renovations caused a multistorey building to collapse in southeastern China on Saturday night, killing at least 10 people.

More than 1,000 firefighters, police officers and medical personnel were sent to the site of the collapsed Xinjia Express Hotel in Quanzhou, Fujian province, to search for more than two dozen people believed to be trapped in the rubble of the building, which had been used as a coronavirus quarantine centre, the Ministry of Emergency Management said on Sunday.

Authorities said eight people in the building managed to escape as it collapsed at about 7.05pm and one other survivor was rescued and did not need medical attention.

Thirty-eight people were pulled alive from the rubble and hospitalised.

The city government said about 80 people, including medical workers and 58 visitors from coronavirus hotspots were staying at the hotel for a mandatory 14-day quarantine and medical observation period.

All 58 visitors had tested negative for the coronavirus, vice-mayor Hong Ziqiang said on Sunday, pledging to punish those responsible for the tragedy.

Hundreds of emergency workers have been sent to the scene. Photo: Xinhua

A tenant surnamed Chen was among the survivors rescued from the wreckage, suffering a minor leg injury, China News Service reported.

He said he had just had a shower and was thrown by the impact onto his bed.

“All of a sudden, [my] body was like falling in the air and lights had all gone out,” Chen said. “I used a dressing gown to cover the bleeding leg, pushed aside [the rubble] and tried to stand up.”

Chen grabbed his mobile phone in the dark and contacted rescuers to give them his location.

Late Sunday afternoon, firefighters also rescued the mother of a 12-year-old boy who had been pulled alive earlier from the wreckage.

But Tang Fan, a 22-year-old doctor, was still among the missing.

“I kept calling his number, but his mobile phone was switched off … I don’t know what to do now,” Tang’s anxious father was quoted by China News Service as saying.

Saturday’s collapse came as Fujian province declared that it had discharged its last coronavirus patient and no new cases had been found.

Renovations were under way at the building when it collapsed. Photo: Xinhua

City officials said the seven-story steel structure was built in 2013, with a floor space of 7,000 square metres. Its third, fourth and fifth floors were turned into the 66-room Xinjia Express Hotel in 2018.

State news agency Xinhua reported that police had detained the building’s 65-year-old owner, only identified as Yang, for investigation.

The report said Yang had hired workers to renovate two ground-floor shops that had previously been leased to a supermarket.

Yang reportedly told police that he received a phone call from on-site construction workers on Saturday evening saying that one pillar was deformed. The whole building collapsed about three minutes later.

The National Health Commission said it sent medical experts to help with the rescue efforts.

“The expert team will evaluate each person who is injured … Meanwhile, work should be done to prevent medical staff from [contracting the coronavirus],” the commission said.

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