Emergency services say at least 58 people died when a fire ripped through a multi-storey building in Johannesburg overrun with homeless people.
ByGERALD IMRAY Associated Press
JOHANNESBURG — At least 58 people have died in a blaze that engulfed a multi-storey building in Johannesburg overrun by homeless people, emergency services said on Thursday.
Spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said 43 other people were injured in the blaze which broke out before dawn. He said the death toll was likely to rise further in what he described as effectively “an informal settlement”.
“In over 20 years of service, I have never come across anything like this,” Mulaudzi said.
A search and recovery operation was underway and firefighters were moving through the building, Mulaudzi said. The team has so far removed 58 bodies, he said, adding that more could be stuck inside.
At least one child was among the dead, Mulaudzi said.
Authorities said the blaze had been largely extinguished, but smoke was still billowing from the windows of the blackened downtown building. Chains of sheets and other materials also hung from some windows. It was not clear if people had used them to try to escape the fire or if they were trying to save their belongings.
Mulaudzi said homeless people moved into the building without any formal rental agreement. He said that made it difficult to search the building.
According to witnesses, up to 200 people could live in the building.
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