News - March 24, 2018 | 12:23 am PT

Charred walls and horror remain from smoky apartment fire that killed 13 Vietnamese

‘I don't want to go up those black stairs.’

A day after a fire killed 13 people at Carina Plaza in Ho Chi Minh City, survivors are allowed to come back to check their apartments and gather their belongings. But many were not ready to face the mess.

The fire started at 1:15 a.m. on Friday and the residents were awaken by heavy smoke, which has turned most of the external walls from cream to black.

A woman walks up the stairs which are covered by thick smoke and signs of panic.

“The lights were off, it was just darkness and smoke. The white color on the walls was us trying to find our way,” a survivor said.

Doors at most of the apartments were broken as fire police looked for the residents. Investigation found the fire alarms did not go off and most deaths were due to suffocation.

A ventilator in the corridor.

Ceiling plaster falls off in a first-floor apartment due to the heat. Many people had tried to run to the ground floor but strong heat and overflowing smoke forced them to run up.

Some found a rope to climb down, some were saved by fire police and several decided to jump. At least three dead victims slipped from high floors.

Papers carrying the name Tran Bui Cam Ha are found in a bag which was slightly burned on the ground floor. Ha, 24, lived on the fifth floor and she has been identified among the dead bodies. Her bag has been given to the police.

Many people have not dared to come back to their apartments because of the “terrifying” memories.

“I was not able to breathe in my own apartment. I don't want to go up those black stairs,” a woman said.

A man rushes down the stairs after collecting some necessities from his apartment. The survivors said they only had time to run during the fire. Some could grab their phones.

“The apartment managers certainly have to take responsibility and compensate us. We did not cause the fire,” said a resident named Tien Hung. “And they need to do it fast so we can go back to life.”

Plants from a balcony are smoked to death.

Police are still inspecting the site and investigating the cause of the fire, but they have noticed certain safety problems. Besides the fact that the emergency lighting did not turn on, the automatic sprinklers failed to deploy and the fire alarms did not go off.

The fire started from a basement parking lot, and smoke was flying up to the residential floors because the fire doors were wedged open by bricks.

Carina Plaza stands over 19,000 square meters on Vo Van Kiet Street, District 8, more than half an hour southwest of the city center. The building has two blocks of 14 stories and one 20-story block, home to more than 700 families.

It was put in use in 2009 and the investor said there had been no safety incidents.

The fire on Friday also injured more than 50 people and burned 13 cars and 150 motorbikes. The blaze is one of the deadliest in the city’s history, only surpassed by the one that killed 60 people at the six-story International Trade Center in October 2002.

Duy Tran, Thanh Nguyen