Armenia on Wednesday began observing a two-day national mourning period for the victims of an explosion at the Surmalu shopping center in Yerevan, which left 16 people dead and dozens injured. Authorities, however, continued search operations to locate two people who are still missing after the blast.
The blast occurred on Sunday at around 1:30 p.m. local time and is believed to have been caused by a fire near a fireworks depot. On Tuesday, Armenia’s authorities reported that that four tons of explosive and flammable materials were housed in the Surmalu building. The use, sale and purchase of fireworks is not regulated in Armenia.
Armenian flags on the government headquarters and other building flew at half mast. The clock on the main building at Yerevan’s Republic Square was set to the time that the explosion occurred. The government of Artsakh also declared a two-day mourning period in memory of the shopping center blast victims.
An investigation into the cause of the explosion is underway, with Emergency Situations Minister Armen Pambukhchyan all but ruling out terrorism.
Rescue and emergency workers were working all day to find two people, who are still missing. Authorities have released the names of all but one of the people killed in the blast, including a pregnant women and a child.
A criminal investigation is also underway on charges of violating regulations pertaining to fire safety, as well as the transport and storage of flammable substances.
Armenia’s Special Investigative Service announced on Wednesday that some 50 people have been questioned as part of the probe.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service briefly on the phone on Tuesday, Irina Madatova, the manager of Surmalu, asserted that they did eliminate the violations. She did not elaborate.
Former deputy prime minister and member of the ruling Civil Contract party board Tigran Avinyan said that parliament will revisit efforts to curtail the use and sale of fireworks.
“Back in 2021, the government discussed a project that would limit the use of fireworks. We should be able to give up that culture,” Avinyan said.
“Storing around four tons of fireworks in one place is dangerous, and one small spark can have such consequences. Even if the world’s best ventilation system is there, the presence of four tons of explosive material is already a danger,” added Avinyan.
On the second day of mourning on Thursday prayers and requiem services will be held, with the Araratian Diocese—the largest in Armenia—telling News.am that a special Mass will be said in all of the Diocesan churches at noon local time on Thursday.