China will investigate whether 17 Japanese tourists received illegal organ transplants, state media said Tuesday.
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The fire was the latest in a series of calamities to befall China since the tightly choreographed Beijing Games last August, including a severe economic slowdown, a tainted milk scandal and sporadic riots and protests.
Flames shot up the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, shattering windows and setting off explosions that showered sparks higher than fireworks lighting up the rest of the city. The fire was put out early today, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. One firefighter was killed, Xinhua reported. Six other people were injured, five of them firefighters.
The hotel dominates an unfinished cultural center adjacent to China Central Television’s new landmark headquarters, a modern Z-shaped building that helped reshape the city’s skyline. Part of the building was used during the Olympics; the 241-room hotel was set to open this year.
Xinhua reported that an initial investigation showed the fire was caused by “rule-breaking” fireworks, according to an unnamed city spokesman who didn’t elaborate. The Associated Press said people answering the phone at the Beijing Fire Department were unable to release any details.
Several witnesses said the fire started as the night sky filled with fireworks.
“Huge fireworks exploded over the building after 8 p.m., and sparks showered down,” said Ji Yuan, 14, a student who lives nearby. “The building lit up, and at first we thought there were more fireworks going off nearby, but then we saw the fire spread from the top, floor by floor.”
Another onlooker, Li Jian, said he saw smoke rise from the roof shortly after a huge burst of fireworks. “Smoke came out for a little while, but then it just started burning,” Li said.
People are usually restricted from setting off fireworks downtown, but the government waives the rule for two weeks each year to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Fireworks were especially raucous Monday night for the Lantern Festival, which marks the first full moon since the Lunar New Year. It also was the last night fireworks were permitted.
“I worry the government will ban fireworks after this fire,” said Wang Lijun, a juice bar worker watching the hotel inferno. “Fireworks are traditional; it does not feel like New Year without them. Maybe they can just ban the biggest type of fireworks.”
David Howell, an American in Beijing who worked for two years on the adjacent television headquarters, said, “There’s a reason why a lot of cities have restrictions on fireworks and have controlled celebrations.”
Fireworks this holiday season have killed and injured numerous people. On Jan. 31, in southeast Fujian province, New Year revelers set off fireworks inside a bar, causing a fire that killed 15. In the first five days of the New Year celebration, 403 people were injured by fireworks, Xinhua said.
The hotel and TV complex were designed by Netherlands architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren. “I think it’s really sad that this building is destroyed before it can be opened to the public,” said Erik Amir, a senior architect with the firm, who rushed to the scene.
Away from the blazing hotel, Jennifer Liang and her family continued to set off fireworks Monday night from a cardboard box.
“It’s fun, and not so dangerous,” Liang said. “But if the government bans fireworks again, we will obey.”
Contributing: Associated Press
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
02-10) 07:55 PST BEIJING, China (AP) —
The pyrotechnics that set fire to a new luxury hotel, gutting the structure and killing a firefighter, were so powerful that a special permit was needed — but it was never obtained, China’s state broadcaster said Tuesday.
China Central Television, which organized the Lunar New Year fireworks at its striking new complex, apologized for a celebration that went horribly wrong.
The unfinished, 520-foot (159-meter) Mandarin Oriental hotel, its charred metal skin now twisted and peeled, stands in a complex housing the network’s Z-shaped headquarters — a project that helped transform the capital’s skyline for the Olympics.
The complex, designed by Dutch architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, had been due to open in May and cost 5 billion yuan ($731 million). There was no immediate word on damage to the CCTV tower.
Pyrotechnics set off to celebrate the end of the Lunar New Year were to blame for the fire, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Luo Yuan, a spokesman for the Beijing fire department, as saying.
He told Xinhua that CCTV hired a fireworks company to ignite several hundred large fireworks in an open area beside the hotel. Video footage posted online showed spectacular bursts of fireworks above the building.
The fire lit up the night sky, showering the ground with embers and charred debris as police held back crowds of onlookers.
Beijing usually tightly restricts the use of fireworks downtown, but it waives the rules during the Lunar New Year. Monday was the final day possible for fireworks, marking the first full moon since the Lunar New Year, and huge barrages exploded throughout the city.
The Xinhua said 30-year-old firefighter Zhang Jianyong died early Tuesday after suffering respiratory tract injuries fighting the blaze. Six other firefighters were injured.
Firefighting ladders only reached about 295 feet (90 meters) up the building, and the blaze wasn’t put out until early Tuesday after burning for more than five hours.
CCTV said it was deeply grieved “for the severe damage the fire caused to the country’s property.”
“According to the Beijing fire department, this fire occurred because the person in charge of the construction of the new building project of CCTV, without permission, hired staff to set off fireworks that violated regulations,” the broadcaster said in a statement on its Web site.
The fireworks used were classified as grade “A,” making them powerful and dangerous enough that a special permit was needed to set them off downtown.
However, the display’s organizers did not obtain such permits and ignored police warnings, CCTV said. Because the building was still under construction, fire fighting systems were not yet functioning, it said.
CCTV did cover the fire outside its own new headquarters, but it was not the top story.
Staff of a company from the central province of Hunan hired for the fireworks job were being questioned, and video of the event was being reviewed, Luo told a news conference.
Luo said the fireworks were similar to those used during last year’s Olympics.
Among questions to be answered are whether the hotel can be rebuilt, or whether it will have to be torn down.
Arup, the British design and engineering firm that worked on the complex, issued a statement saying it was “shocked and saddened” but did not know the extent of the damage.