Only way out is down: Karaoke parlor employees escape deadly fire

By Staff reporters   September 7, 2022 | 03:39 am PT
Only way out is down: Karaoke parlor employees escape deadly fire
Nguyen Trong Phuc, 18, is treated at the An Phu Hospital in Binh Duong Province with a broken leg after jumping off the second floor of a karaoke parlor to escape a fire, September 7, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van
When the flames and smoke raged around him on the second floor of a karaoke parlor in Binh Duong, Nguyen Trong Phuc, 18, knew there was only one way out.

On Wednesday morning, Phuc, an employee of the An Phu karaoke parlor in the southern province, was awaiting leg surgery at An Phu General Hospital after jumping 10 meters from the second floor onto the roof of a house next door. The fire at the parlor from the previous night has claimed the lives of 23 people so far.

Still weary from an eventful night and with aches all over his body, Phuc thought himself a lucky man.

Phuc has been working at the facility for VND7 million ($296.74) a month. At around 9 p.m. Tuesday, as he was cleaning a room on the first floor, he heard a scream: "Fire in room 303!" followed by the sounds of multiple explosions. The power went out just five minutes after, as the smoke began seeping through the doors and hallways and the heat wafted into the air, closing in from the front.

In the dark, Phuc heard screams of terror, along with calls for help.

"It was dark as ink. The voices screaming for help still haunt me even now," he said.

Phuc felt like suffocating. He ran towards the stairs, but the smoke was too thick and too many people were running in the opposite direction. Realizing the stairs were a no-go, Phuc covered his nose with his shirt and tried to find his way within the dark toward the restroom. He climbed on top of the toilet and jumped from the window, landing on a roof next door.

Phuc said he might have died if he landed on the ground instead.

At the hospital with Phuc, dozens of other employees were being treated in the ICU.

Ngan, 20, was one of the employees rescued by firefighters from the highest floor, where she was sleeping with dozens of other staff, waiting for their next shift.

Ngan saw the smoke coming up from the stairs. It stung her nose and eyes, trapping Ngan and the others inside the room, knowing they cannot escape to lower levels.

When the electric signs began to catch fire, Ngan and the others had no choice but to run toward the roof and scream for help. They used whatever they had at the time, scarfs and dresses and other clothing items, to protect their noses from the smoke. Ngan said many tried to poke their heads through metal bars and wave their hands, hoping someone could see them.

Thirty minutes after the fire began, the group was rescued by firefighters and taken to hospital, only 500 meters away.

Firefighters smash through walls to look for more victims in the aftermath of a fire at a karaoke parlor in Binh Duong, September 7, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung

Firefighters smash through walls to look for more victims in the aftermath of a fire at a karaoke parlor in Binh Duong, Sept. 7, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung

Duong Ba Khuong, 27, was at the parlor's reception when he realized what was happening. He tried to run upstairs to help, but failed due to the sheer amount of smoke and heat.

"Some people managed to run to lower floors but were severely burned. The soot blackened their clothes all over," he said. The parlor has around 30 rooms, including seven on the first floor and nine to 13 rooms on the next two floors. There was a kitchen on the first floor, while the highest floor served as staff quarters, he said.

Nguyen Dinh Dat, from An Phu General Hospital, said it had received around 40 victims of the fire since Tuesday night. As of Wednesday morning, 30 people have been discharged, while 10 others were still being monitored. Many had suffered burns and suffocation, with those showing more severe injuries related to the spine and skull transferred to other hospitals for treatment.

"All victims had difficulty breathing and were in a state of panic," said Dat, adding that the hospital has been operating at full throttle since the previous night to help the victims.

An Phu karaoke parlor in An Phu Ward, Thuan An Town spanned over 1,500 square meters, of which around 400 square meters caught fire. The flames caught onto flamable soundproof foam and wooden furniture. Many people had to jump from balconies to save their own lives.

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