Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO/AFP via Getty Images.
Tragedy Strikes Johannesburg as Fire Claims Lives
Tragic fire engulfs Johannesburg's informal housing, 74 lives lost, 50 injured amid calls for urgent action in South Africa's inner city.
A devastating fire ripped through a five-story building in central Johannesburg, which had been converted into informal housing, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 74 lives and leaving dozens injured.
Authorities embarked on a painstaking search and rescue operation, systematically scouring each floor of the building for survivors while recovering charred bodies, including 12 children, city officials revealed at a news conference held on Thursday afternoon.
Rescue officials confirmed that the fire had been successfully extinguished, but the toll was grim. More than 50 individuals suffered injuries, as reported by Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for the city's emergency services.
One survivor, Mpepa, who was residing in the building with family members, expressed his profound sense of loss. "I don't have any plan because everything, I lost," he lamented, describing how he passed out from smoke inhalation and cannot recall his escape.
Eyewitnesses like Kenny Bupe recounted the harrowing ordeal, claiming that the fire escape was inaccessible, resulting in many casualties due to smoke inhalation. "There was a lot of people you know, a lot of people, smoke... people suffocated, a lot of people died because of the smoke," he told Reuters.
Omar Foart from Malawi shared his heartbreaking story of losing family and belongings. "Firstly I lost my sister. Three sisters I've already lost," he said, explaining how he left his possessions inside the burning building while struggling to save his life.
This incident sheds light on the precarious conditions of informal housing, which often lacks basic safety regulations. Local authorities on the scene likened the building to an informal settlement, where small apartments meant for two or three people were subdivided to accommodate multiple occupants.
The cause of the blaze at this abandoned building, now occupied by homeless individuals, remains uncertain, according to officials. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa termed it a "tragedy" and a "wake-up call" in a press conference at the fire site. He commended emergency services for their rapid response.
The health department reported that ten of the recovered bodies were unidentifiable, further underscoring the scale of the disaster. Johannesburg city manager Floyd Brink stated that 200 families were affected, with every effort being made to provide accommodation.
Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda announced temporary accommodation for displaced survivors for three days, with future plans contingent upon guidance from the human settlements department.
President Ramaphosa assured that those in need of assistance, from housing to counseling, would receive support. He emphasized the importance of investigations into the fire to prevent similar tragedies and called for a renewed focus on addressing housing issues in the inner city.
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