By Simone McCarthy, CNN
Hong Kong (CNN) — At least eleven people are dead after the roof of a school gymnasium collapsed during a student volleyball team practice in northeastern China Sunday afternoon, according to local officials.
Nineteen people were at the middle school gymnasium in Heilongjiang province’s Qiqihar city when the accident happened, including two coaches and 17 players on the school’s women’s team, state media reported Monday, citing local officials.
Reports did not specify the ages of the victims, but local media reports cited interviews with team parents, two of whom said their children were 15 and 16 respectively.
Preliminary investigations suggested the collapse may have been caused by construction materials left on the gym roof during construction work on an adjacent building.
The material, called perlite, gained weight after being soaked in water brought by rainfall and led to the collapse, officials said. Further investigation is on-going, with criminal proceedings against those involved in the construction pending, officials said during a briefing Monday.
The accident has sparked both grief and outrage among the local community and wider public.
Images circulating in local media showed a large crowd of people gathered outside the school Monday, where a front walkway was covered with flowers brought by mourners.
The incident, which joins a long line of safety related tragedies in China, has also generated backlash against its official handling, including accusations of a lag in the release of timely information.
“Their first reaction is to block the news. Who cares about your child when they are scared of losing their positions?” said one comment on social media, which garnered 18,000 likes.
Other social media users ironically circulated an official notice dated earlier this month lauding a recent government-led safety training in the city, in a tacit critique.
In a press briefing Monday evening, local officials said the incident exposed problems such as the “inadequate investigation of potential safety hazards” and “inadequate safety supervision.”
“We will reflect deeply and learn lessons and comprehensively and deeply carry out the ’2023 special action plan’ for investigating and rectifying major safety hazards,” the officials pledged, referring to a national safety campaign announced in May.
Safety incidents are not uncommon in China and the accident follows a string of tragedies that have been linked to lax safety standards in recent months.
Last month, an explosion at a barbecue restaurant in northwestern China left 31 dead and prompted official pledges of a nationwide campaign to promote workplace safety, with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at that time calling on all regions to “screen for and rectify all types of risks and hidden dangers.”
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CNN’s Mengchen Zhang, Candice Zhu and Berry Wang contributed reporting.