Eleven people were killed when the ceiling of a school gymnasium in north-east China collapsed as a girls’ volleyball team was practicing, according to state media.
Many of the victims are children, according to eyewitnesses, though this has yet to be formally confirmed.
Anxious parents have flocked to a local hospital for updates.
Only eight of the 19 persons who were inside the gym in Heilongjiang’s industrial province escaped.
According to local media, police have detained the owners of a local construction company.
They have been accused of dropping perlite, a type of volcanic glass, on the gym’s roof while working on a neighboring construction project.
The mineral had absorbed rain water after severe downpours, causing the roof to fall about 15:00 local time (07:00 GMT).
As rescue workers scraped through the wreckage in Qiqihar city, the coach of the middle school’s girls’ volleyball team was heard shouting out the students’ names, according to China National Radio.
Parents have criticized school administrators, claiming a lack of effective communication during the rescue effort, which lasted till Monday morning.
“They tell me my daughter is gone but we never got to see the child. All the children had their faces covered with mud and blood when they were sent to the hospital. I pleaded, please let me identify the child. What if, that wasn’t my child?” one man said in a video that has been widely-shared on social media.
“What have [the authorities] been doing four, five, or even six hours after the children were sent to hospital? … Doctors are not communicating with us about how the rescue is going.
“We have elderly people at home, we need to [help them] be mentally prepared. There are doctors, police officers and other government officials here. But we have not heard anything from you,” he said.
Many users on social media in the country echoed concerns from the father in the video, questioning the treatment of worried parents by the police and officials at the scene.
“Do people mean nothing to them?” wrote one angry user.
Others questioned why perlite was present on the roof of the gym in the first place. “The cost for breaking the law is too low in this country, people don’t have any respect for the law, that’s the key reason,” another user wrote.
Construction accidents are common in China and have been blamed on lax safety standards and poor enforcement.
An explosion at a BBQ restaurant in northwestern China killed at least 31 people in June. According to preliminary findings, the incident occurred while a restaurant employee was repairing a damaged valve on a liquefied gas tank.
A fire at a Beijing hospital in April killed 29 people and forced some desperate survivors to flee by jumping out the windows.