Journalism in the service of society

S’AFRICA: 73 dead after fire engulfs building in Johannesburg

A FIRE that engulfed a five-storey building taken over for illegal housing killed more than 70 people including children in central Johannesburg on Thursday, the South African city’s emergency services said.

Another 52 were injured in what is on track to become one of the deadliest fires worldwide in recent years.

Bodies were discovered piled up at a security gate that was closed preventing people escaping the blaze, an official said.

City authorities said the building in a deprived crime-ridden area had been turned into illegal housing after being abandoned.

Most of those living there were foreigners, one resident said.

“We have now 73 fatalities and 52 people injured who were transported to various healthcare facilities for further medical care,” Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said.

At least seven children were among those killed by the flames, the youngest under two years old, he said. Some were left burned beyond recognition.

“I’m grateful to be alive, there was a lot of us running, trying to find the fire exit and a lot of people eventually died because of the smoke inhalation,” said Kenny Bupe, a survivor caught up in the blaze while visiting a friend.

The 28-year-old told AFP he was part of a group that managed to break open a locked fire escape gate and run to safety, while others “jumped out” of the windows to save themselves.

Firefighters at the scene have put out the flames and are “busy with damping down”, while search and recovery operations are ongoing, Mulaudzi said.

“We are moving floor by floor conducting these body recoveries,” he told local broadcaster ENCA.

An AFP reporter at the scene said emergency services were continuing to bring charred bodies out of the building, laying them down under blankets and sheets on the street outside.

“It is indeed a sad day for the city of Johannesburg… over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” Mulaudzi said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which broke out overnight.

Mgcini Tshwaku, a member of the city’s mayoral committee in charge of public safety, said candles used for lighting inside the structure were a likely cause.

Comments are closed.

Naija Times