13 killed in Vietnam apartment fire

By Staff reporters   March 22, 2018 | 04:53 pm PT
13 killed in Vietnam apartment fire
High smoke columns go up an apartment building in Saigon early on Friday morning. Photo by VnExpress
The 20-story building in HCMC is home to more than 700 families and hundreds fled in chaos after waking up to thick black smoke.

At least 13 people were killed in an apartment building fire in Ho Chi Minh City early on Friday morning, police said.

Many people were forced to jump from their apartments and hundreds fled in chaos as the Carina Plaza in District 8, more than half an hour southwest of the city center, caught fire at around 1:15 a.m.

Dozens of fire trucks rushed to the site as residents waved flashlights and screamed for help.

Charred bodies were seen being carried out of the building, and police said at least 13 people had died and a further 28 were injured.

Among the casualties were two boys aged three and five years old. A woman and her son also died after slipping from the 19th floor, police said.

It took firefighters more than two hours to bring the blaze under control, at which point hundreds of people had been rescued, with women and children given priority.

"This blaze has resulted in the worst human and property loss in recent years,” said Vo Van Hoan, Ho Chi Minh City’s chief of staff, claiming that all health and safety protocol had been followed but no one could rule out such incidents, which can "easily" occur in high rise apartment buildings.

“Nobody wants such a regretful incident to happen,” said Nguyen Phuc, a board member of 577 JSC., the parent company of Hung Thanh company which owns Carina Plaza.

Phuc said the building had undergone frequent fire safety inspections, all of which concluded that it was safe.

 “The building was opened in 2009 and there have been no incidents since. We are waiting for the official conclusion on the cause of the fire,” said Phuc, again saying that negligence was not a factor. The total damage caused by the blaze has not been estimated yet, but the project's owner “will have the responsibility to partially cover residents’ losses,” Phuc said.

An initial investigation found the fire started from a motorbike in a basement parking lot that had more than 1,000 bikes and dozens of cars.

The exit doors were open, leaving smoke to fly up the apartment floors. Most victims were killed by suffocation, police said.

Police are still investigating the cause and searching for any trapped victims.

A woman and a little boy are taken out of the building on a fire truck lift. Photo by Quynh Tran

A woman and a little boy are rescued from the building in a fire lift. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

A woman was helped climb down a rope ladder. Photo by VnExpress

A woman is helped to climb down a rope ladder. Photo by VnExpress

Some residents were rescued in fire truck lifts, while others were helped down the stairs.

Most of them were coughing and covered in soot.

A woman and her two children were put on an ambulance after taken out of the building. Photo by Quynh Tran

A woman and her two children in an ambulance after being rescued from the building. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Many survivors were still in shock in the morning as they searched for missing family members.

A young woman from the fifth floor said that she was woken up because it was hard to breath.

"I woke up and all I could see was thick black smoke. I rushed out of the house and there were a lot of people panicking and screaming just like me," she said, carrying her six-month-old daughter.

"We didn't know which way to run."

She said that everyone was very scared, and some had tied blankets together to make makeshift ropes to climb down.

"Luckily we were rescued after half an hour," she said.

Le Thi Vang, a 45-year-old resident, suffered multiple injuries after jumping from the second floor with her niece.

Le Thi Vang, 45, lies on the ground after jumping out of the fire. Photo by VnExpress

Le Thi Vang, 45, lies on the ground after jumping out of the building. Photo by VnExpress

The complex, covering over 19,000 square meters on Vo Van Kiet Street, has three blocks of 14 to 20 stories tall, and is home to more than 700 families. It was opened in 2009.

Ho Chi Minh City, the largest metropolis in Vietnam, reported more than 1,000 fire incidents last year, which killed 26 people and caused damage worth around $4 million.

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