West News Wire: At least 73 people were killed in a nocturnal fire in Johannesburg that tore through a dilapidated five-story structure used by squatters and the homeless, according to emergency services in South Africa’s largest city.
On Thursday, some of the residents of the building’s maze of shacks and other improvised homes pushed themselves out of windows to escape the fire and may have perished as a result, according to a local government official. One year old was the youngest of the seven victims, according to a representative for the emergency services.
According to witnesses, there may have been 200 people living in the structure.
Emergency crews expected to find more victims as they worked their way through the building, a process slowed by the conditions inside. Dozens of bodies were lined up on a nearby side road, some in body bags, and others covered with silver sheets and blankets.
Another 52 people were injured in the blaze, which broke out at about 1am on Thursday (23:00 GMT on Wednesday) in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district, Johannesburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said.
There are many abandoned and dilapidated buildings in the region, and they are frequently occupied by persons who are frantically looking for a place to stay. They are referred to as “hijacked buildings” by city officials.
Black South Africans visited the building to obtain their dompas, which would have allowed them to work in white-owned portions of the city, according to a sign on the entrance to the block that was destroyed.
Mulaudzi predicted that the death toll will rise and that there would be more bodies trapped inside the structure. He claimed that it took three hours to put out the fire, and by mid-morning, they had only reached three of the building’s five levels.
“This is a tragedy for Johannesburg. Over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” Mulaudzi said.
The city suffers from chronic power shortages during which many resort to candles for light and wood fires for heat.
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party says it is “saddened by the tragic loss of life” in Johannesburg.
“We urge law enforcement authorities to ensure that those responsible for this tragedy are held accountable,” it said in a post on X.