Fitness gym collapse kills 3 in China’s Heilongjiang province

By Bernard Orr

BEIJING (Reuters) -Three people were killed and one injured after a structural collapse at a fitness club in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, local officials said on Tuesday.

Government officials and state media said seven people were in the Yuecheng Fitness Gymnasium in Jiamusi city, Huanan County, when it collapsed late on Monday.

Officials said rescue operations have ended.

Initial reports said three people, possibly children, were at the venue or trapped inside when it collapsed. State media said the incident occurred at 7:20 p.m. (1120 GMT).

According to a local resident, the collapsed gymnasium is a basketball arena where youth basketball training is held, Global Times reported late Monday.

Video images on social media showed a concrete structure caved in and covered by snowfall. Another video from The Paper, a Shanghai government-run media outlet, showed a woman running toward the collapsed area while crying and shouting “my son is still inside”.

The venue where the accident occurred belongs to the New Sunshine Fitness Club in Huanan County, according to the county government. The club could not be immediately reached for comment.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, officials said, and the person in charge of the gym, also managed by New Sunshine, has been detained by the police.

It was not immediately known what caused the collapse, but the country’s northernmost province was slammed by harsh cold and blizzard weather throughout Monday that wreaked havoc on public transportation and closed schools.

More blizzard conditions are expected on Tuesday in Heilongjiang, including Jiamusi, CCTV news said, with warnings of icy roads, downed power lines and other snow-related obstructions.

In July, 11 people were killed after the concrete roof of a school gymnasium in China’s Qiqihar city collapsed.

Authorities had said that collapse was due to construction materials weighing on the roof. Heavy rains had drenched the region for several days.

“I remember that safety inspections were conducted on various gymnasiums after the Qiqihar No. 34 Middle School gymnasium collapsed in July,” said a netizen on China’s Weibo social media platform. “What was found? Another gymnasium collapse occurred in three months.”

(Reporting by Bernard Orr and Shanghai newsroom; Additional reporting by Ella Cao; Editing by Gerry Doyle)