Dozens of people died on Wednesday after a fire at an apartment block in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. According to witnesses, screams could be heard from inside the building and bystanders saw a small boy being thrown from the building.
The fire started shortly before midnight on Tuesday (around 19:00 SA time) on the ground floor of the ten-storey building – a space packed with motorbikes, witnesses told AFP.
According to the Vietnam News Agency, authorities rescued around 70 people from the burning building and 54 were rushed to a hospital. However, dozens of people have already died in the fire, including at least three children. The exact death toll has not yet been confirmed.
“I heard many cries for help, but we couldn’t help them,” says Hoa, a woman who lives near the block of flats.
“The apartment block is very closed with no escape routes, which made it almost impossible for the victims to escape from the burning building,” she told AFP at the site.
Photos from AFP photographers at the scene show flames and smoke billowing from the balconies.
The fire was extinguished on Wednesday morning. Rescue workers apparently struggled for a long time to gain access to the building – which is located in a narrow alley in a residential area in the south-west of the capital.
The building’s small balconies were barred with only one single exit and no escape ladder on the outside.
About 150 people lived in the complex.
Another witness, Huong, says a small boy was thrown from one of the upper floors in an attempt to keep him safe.
“I was on my way to sleep when I suddenly smelled something. I ran outside and saw the flames.
“The smoke was everywhere. There was a boy who was thrown from a high floor; I don’t know if he survived it, but there were people who used a mattress to try to catch him.”
Vietnam has experienced several deadly fires in recent years, which often break out at entertainment venues.
A year ago, a fire in a three-storey karaoke bar in Ho Chi Minh claimed the lives of 32 people. At least 17 people were injured in that fire, and the owner was arrested on charges related to violating fire prevention regulations.
A total of 13 people also died in 2018 after an apartment complex, also in Ho Chin Minh City, caught fire.
Another 13 people died in 2016 in a karaoke hangout in Hanoi after a fire.
Southeast Asia regularly experiences deadly fires with accidental fires common, a result of poor safety standards.
A similar fire incident of a five-storey building in Johannesburg in South Africa also recently claimed the lives of at least 76 people.