HONG KONG — The owner of a gym in China’s northeastern province of Heilongjiang has been detained after three middle school students died and two were injured when the building collapsed.
The cave-in occurred at the two-storey building in Huanan county at 7.20pm on Monday (Nov 6), the county government said on its WeChat account on Tuesday morning. The rescue operation ended at 12.35am on Tuesday.
Seven middle school students were playing basketball in the gym at the time of the failure. Three of the four students trapped by the collapse died, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Xinhua reported that two students were hurt and were in hospital on Tuesday afternoon but neither had life-threatening injuries. The remaining two students were not hurt in the gym collapse.
Officials and local anti-corruption authorities in the county and the city of Jiamusi, which oversees Huanan, were investigating the incident.
A local official was quoted in mainland media reports as saying the collapse was linked to heavy snowfall.
On Monday afternoon, authorities in Huanan issued a red alert for snowstorms — the highest in China’s four-tier warning system — and urged local businesses to close “if necessary”. Chongqing-based Upstream News reported that the gym was open on Monday.
Video circulating on social media showed part of the building’s roof collapsing on Monday with the ruins covered in snow. Xinhua said the building was completed in 2018 and passed inspection in 2020. A fitness club rented the gym in December after the previous lease expired.
The incident comes just a few months after another fatal collapse in Heilongjiang. Eleven people — many of them believed to be members of a girls volleyball team — died when the roof at a middle school in Qiqihar collapsed after a rainstorm in July.
Local officials said it was caused by a construction company storing highly absorbent building materials on the roof.
In a statement on its website, the Huanan government said that in July county mayor Cheng Xianfeng visited the gym that collapsed on Monday as part of official inspections in the wake of the Qiqihar accident.
China’s National Meteorological Centre issued its first snowstorm warning of the year on Saturday. It forecast that several provinces in the northeast would be hit by heavy snowstorms from Sunday to Tuesday, with some areas expecting record snow.
Several cities in Heilongjiang province announced work and school closures on Monday.
Huanan county, home to nearly 270,000 people, is 1,350km northeast of China’s capital Beijing and 250km west of the border with Russia.
Snow continued to fall in Huanan on Tuesday morning. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST