Update on explosion at Surmalu shopping center in Yerevan and rescue work
Details of the explosion in Surmalu
Approximately 935 emergency personnel are taking part in the search and rescue operation at the Surmalu shopping center in Yerevan. On August 14 a powerful explosion occurred at the mall, causing a massive fire and heavy damage; so far 26 bodies have been gotten out of the rubble, 10 alive. At a government meeting on August 18, all the latest data on the explosion and rescue operation were shared.
According to the head of the public organization “Informed and Protected Consumer” Babken Pipoyan, the rescue operation is being carried out “at an amateur level.” He states that volunteers are working without protective clothing, and Pipoyan considers it fortunate that none has been hurt.
According to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, two years ago, after the explosion in Beirut, he “instructed the relevant departments to pay special attention” to the storage of explosive materials. It isn’t known if there was any follow through.
Details announced at a government meeting on the results of search operations, medical assistance provided to the victims, and an expert’s commentary.
“Instructed to collect information on the storage of explosives”
“After the explosion in Beirut in August 2020, I instructed the relevant departments to collect information about all possible places, companies that deal with explosives, and about places where a large amount of explosive materials can be located,” Pashinyan said.
According to the primer minister, after the explosion at Surmalu he immediately tried to obtain a report on the fulfillment of this order. However, the information is still in the process of being collected and has not been received.
“I must instruct the State Control Service to conduct a specific investigation and report on how my order was carried out,” the Prime Minister said.
Treatment will be free of charge
According to Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan, out of 62 people delivered to hospitals, only four are still receiving treatment. Their condition is reported as stable.
According to the minister, all the victims received treatment under state order, that is, free of charge. This also applies to surgical interventions.
“If in the future there is a need to continue treatment, then it will also be completely free of charge,” Anahit Avanesyan assured.
Rescuers approach the epicenter
Minister of Emergency Situations Armen Pambukhchyan said that sixteen dead have been recovered from the rubble so far. Ten survivors were found by rescuers within the first two hours of the fire starting.
“935 rescuers were involved in the work, 350 of them on the first day. 382 volunteers, 201 Red Cross rescuers and psychologists worked with them,” the minister said.
According to Pambukhchyan, the identity of one of the dead has not yet been established, therefore two are considered missing:
“We assume that the unidentified deceased is one of the two who are listed as missing.”
The search for the missing continues. Rescuers already know exactly who they are looking for. The man was at the epicenter of the explosion, so the Ministry of Emergency Situations believes that it will not be easy to find him.
“Almost 90% of the area has been cleared, and we’re starting on the center. We are having difficulties with structures hanging on weight after collapsing, which we are dismantling to create the safest conditions for rescuers,” the minister said.
He also said there is no problem as far as equipment or human resources.
“There is no evidence of a terrorist attack or deliberate crime”
Pashinyan asked the chairman of the Investigative Committee whether the possibility of a terrorist act or premeditated crime is being considered, whether there are circumstances confirming or excluding it.
The Investigative Committee opened a criminal case under two articles:
- violation of the rules for the storage of flammable substances, which negligently caused the death of a person,
- violation of fire safety rules, resulting in the death of a person by negligence.
“At the moment, there is no factual evidence in the criminal case that would testify to the commission of a terrorist act or other intentional crime,” said Argishti Kyaramyan, head of the Investigative Committee.
According to Kyaramyan, the evidence currently available speaks more to negligence.
The head of the Informed and Protected Consumer public organization Babken Pipoyan believes that search and rescue operations were carried out at an amateur level:
“It isn’t necessary that a brick fall on the head of a volunteer and he die on the spot for us to understand that this is not how search and rescue work is conducted.”
The expert stressed that the volunteers were woring without protective clothing, goggles, helmets and masks.
According to Pipoyan, one video shows how a man in civilian clothes takes a professional device from the hands of a fireman and does some work. According to the expert, all this could lead to serious consequences.
Babken Pipoyan also touchedon the provision of assistance to businessmen who worked in the shopping center and suffered losses due to explosion and fire. He believes that the government should compensate them for the damage and provide support to the victims’ families.
Details of the explosion in Surmalu