(CNN) The deadliest blaze in the Chinese capital in two decades killed 29 people in a hospital on Tuesday, but most people didn’t hear about it until several hours later, and even then details were scant as authorities closed in on the details.
Changfeng Hospital in Fengtai District also caught fire From about 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Forcing some to desperately climb out of windows and huddle on air-conditioning units, state media remained silent and censored It seems to rub Internet of any mention.
The extent of information censorship and censorship came As a shock to netizens, as well as to residents of Beijing, many of whom complained online that they did not know that a deadly fire had broken out in their city until late Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, officials in Beijing gave more details about the fire during a news conference, which was delayed by half an hour and lasted less than 20 minutes.
Zhao Yang, an official with the Beijing Fire Department, said on Wednesday that the fire that engulfed the inpatient building of Changfeng Hospital was caused by sparks from interior renovation work that ignited flammable paint.
Twelve people were arrested on suspicion of gross negligence, incl Sun Haitao, an official with the Beijing Public Security Bureau, said the hospital director and construction workers.
In the videos shared on social media Tuesday- Before it was censored – smoke could be seen billowing from many hospital windows as people desperately tried to escape the fire. At least one person appears to have used a rope made from bed sheets to descend from a window onto a lower level balcony.
Others were seen either huddling on air conditioning units placed on the outside of the building, or trying to use the units to maneuver themselves from one level to the next. A person was seen jumping from one level of the building onto the lower balcony.
The fire is the deadliest in Beijing in recent years, surpassing the death toll from a fire in 2017 that killed 19 people in a narrow two-storey building in Daxing District in the southern suburbs of the capital.
It’s also one of the most heavily censored incidents in recent years – a sign of the tightening of media controls in China under Xi Jinping, the country’s most authoritarian leader in a generation.
The fire broke out in a crowded western Beijing neighborhood at noon on Tuesday, but was not reported by Chinese media until about eight hours after firefighters responded to calls for help.
At 8.43pm, the Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese capital, published a brief report on the accident – more than 7 hours after the fire had been put out and more than 5 hours after rescue efforts had ended.
On Chinese social media, many have questioned why the public has been kept in the dark for so long.
“The incident occurred after 12 noon, and no media outlet reported breaking news at that time,” a prominent commentary on Weibo said, noting that most state media only publish standardized press releases after 9 p.m.
“The media are now essentially copying machines for standardized press releases,” she added.
China’s social media platforms, which have been quick to spread information about similar incidents in the past, have also been largely silent Around the fire all afternoon.
The control of information is exceptional especially considering the popularity of short video platforms and live streaming sites in China.
A commenter on Wechat said: “It is often said that in an era when everyone has a microphone, it is difficult to prevent the spread of news, but now it seems that it is not that difficult at all.”
“Although 21 people have been killed, as long as (the authorities) don’t announce it, it will be as if nothing happened in the community,” the commentator said on Tuesday before the death toll rose to 29.
Officials at a brief press conference on Wednesday revealed details of the dead. Among them were 26 inpatients with an average age of 71. The oldest victim was 88. A nurse, a care worker and a family also died in the fire, according to Li Zhongrong, deputy head of the Fengtai district government.
142 people were evacuated, including 71 patients. Li Ang, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission, said 39 injured people remained in hospital as of Wednesday, including three in critical condition.
Even with the tragedy, they were oblivious, said the family members of the patients in Chang Feng Hospital.
And on Tuesday night, some rushed to the hospital to look for their loved ones after learning about the matter on the news, according to the state-run China Youth Daily.
“It’s been seven or eight hours and I haven’t received a single phone call,” a relative was quoted as saying.
But the hospital refused to give them a list of the names of the victims, instead asking them to register their information and wait for an official notification, according to the report.
After state media reports on the incident, discussions on social media remained tightly censored. Real-time footage and images of the fire were also banned The leaflets were critical of the government’s handling of the fire and Subsequent control.
Many wondered why the incident had not become a trending topic on Weibo throughout Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
Some have compared the fire’s limited visibility on social media to the overwhelming coverage of a deadly explosion at a metallurgical plant in Ohio in the US in February, which dominated Weibo trending topics for days.
While some Chinese media outlets have since published in-depth reports on the aftermath of the fire, the long initial silence has displeased some liberal Chinese journalists.
On Wechat, a newspaper editor in Beijing lamented the tightening grip of censorship and control on society.
“The most terrifying thing is not the death of 29 people, but the eight hours of silence,” the editor wrote in a blog post.
“The first is an accident and neglect of duty, while the second is a willful act with full effort, to show his unscrupulous social control, treating us like deaf, blind, stupid, worthless people. Accidents can be prevented, but a deliberate act can become is the norm.”
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