BEIJING -- An elementary school in western China collapsed onto more than 50 students, killing at least five and injuring dozens more, authorities and a human rights group said Thursday. The rights group blamed shoddy building materials and accused police of covering up the accident.
The accident Oct. 9 at Bacun Primary School in Suining, in the western China province of Sichuan, happened at 3 p.m. while students were in class, the New York-based group Human Rights in China said. It said the students and a teacher named Miss Duan were buried alive when the building collapsed.
One student died at the scene, the rights group said, and more than 30 were "seriously injured." Four of those later died in hospitals, the group said. It said three students in the school's bathroom were not hurt.
In Suining, authorities and two hospitals in the area confirmed Thursday that the accident had happened but said they had few details.
But Human Rights in China, in a statement sent to news agencies in China, blamed the collapse on officials who embezzled funds earmarked for the school and built it using shoddy construction materials. Citing "informants," it said teachers hadn't been paid in months and female students were being harassed.
News of the accident was stifled at the source, Human Rights in China contended.
"They sealed up this news on the spot," the group said. It said authorities wanted to bottle up the news because of President Jiang Zemin's visit to the United States next week and the upcoming Communist Party Congress next month.
"They wanted to cover up their ugly sin," the group said. It said the careless construction showed "total disregard for the lives of the students."
Suining authorities, reached by telephone Thursday, denied the allegations. "We didn't try to cover up anything," said an officer at the Suining Security Department who wouldn't give his name.
He wouldn't address the rights group's charges of shoddy construction.
At the Suining No. 2 Hospital, an official confirmed the accident and said 23 people had been treated there. The man, who gave only his surname, Liu, said all survived. He couldn't say how many remained in the hospital Thursday.
The Red Cross Hospital in Suining confirmed the accident had happened but said it treated no patients from the collapse.
Most of the injured children had been released from hospitals by Thursday, the police official said.