Eight in hospital after Russian mall blaze

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Eight people remained in hospital Sunday after a huge blaze ravaged a busy shopping mall in the southern Urals killing two, officials said.

The fire destroyed the shopping centre in the city of Ufa, capital of the oil-rich Bashkortostan region, killing a 17-year-old girl and a 35-year-old man, the emergencies ministry said.

"At the moment eight people remain hospitalised in the capital with injuries of various degrees of severity," the ministry said in a statement.

Television images showed that all that remained of the multi-storey building was a burnt-out hulk Sunday.

The fire, which broke out at around 6:00 p.m (1300 GMT) Saturday, destroyed 3,200 square metres of the shopping centre, according to an emergency ministry spokeswoman Alina Ganiyeva.

Witnesses said the fire was preceded by an explosion.

Regional interior minister Igor Alyoshin, citing preliminary information from a probe, said the violation of safety rules might have caused the fire.

Workers had been laying concrete floors in one of the shopping centre's halls and using gas burners to speed up the drying time, he said.

"We do not rule out this might have become the reason for the tragedy," Alyoshin said on television.

Shoppers and staff fled the building in panic as the fire took hold rapidly, witnesses said.

"There were many... quite a lot of people (and) employees there," Artyom Klimenko told local TV.

"I was standing there, weeping and crying. I thought all of them burned in the fire because it was so strong."

A worker at a cafe next to the mall told Echo of Moscow radio the evacuation of shoppers and staff had been difficult because the main entrance was on fire, adding several cars outside the entrance had caught fire and exploded.

Another witness, Alina Suleimanova, said she was driving by when she heard a blast.

"My window was open. Then suddenly there was some kind of sharp popping sound, an explosion," she said.

"I turn my head to the right and see that this part of the building here caught fire virtually before my eyes."

© 2011 AFP

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