News - March 27, 2018 | 07:44 pm PT

Saigon fire survivors in rush to collect valuables before looters break in

They have been told it will be 10-30 days before they can return to their apartments.

Days after the disastrous fire killed 13 people in their apartment building, the residents of Carina Palaza in Saigon’s District 8 are on the move as they try to find temporary accommodation and protect their homes from potential looting.

Lam Trang collects clothes from her apartment on the fifth floor of Carina Plaza. “I have not finished moving my things yet,” she said. Her apartment was barely damaged by the fire on March 23, but her three motorbikes in a basement parking lot were incinerated.

Le Quan boxes up most of his belongings in a corridor. He is moving to stay temporarily in Go Vap District, which is an hour away. “I’m not sure when I will be back. And I have to move these quickly or they will be stolen,” he said.

The company which manages the building said that two blocks will need a month to fix, while the other less damaged building will take 10 days.

A family uses a rope to lower their belongings, while some of their neighbors have set up a pulley. The elevators have been shut down since the fire.

People wait outside as their families lower things down. “Our lives have been messy for the past few days. I can’t wait to resettle and receive my compensation from the investor.”

The investor, 577 JSC., has not announced a final compensation package, but a representative said it is going to give each family VND300,000 ($13) a day to help with temporary accommodation.

A man carries a mattress to his temporary home.

Some residents are still looking for personal papers and money they lost during the chaotic stampede to escape the fire. Others said the money in their apartments has been stolen because the building has not been well guarded following the incident.

Officials said they have sent police and militiamen to ensure security.

Workers remove an AC unit from an apartment. Some families said they have had to pay VND2-3 million ($88-132) to move heavy items like washers and refrigerators.

Charred motorbikes are taken away from the building. An initial investigation found 13 cars and 150 motorbikes were damaged in the blaze.

Carina Plaza covers over 19,000 square meters (22,700 square yards) 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, and is home to more than 700 families.

The fire started at 1:15 a.m. from a motorbike in a basement parking lot, sending smoke up to residential floors as the fire doors were wedged open by bricks at the time. Many residents were awoken by heavy smoke and did not hear any alarms going off.

The fire also injured more than 50 people and is the deadliest to hit the city since a blaze at the International Trade Center killed 60 people in October 2002.

Quynh Tran