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Building Fire in Vietnam Kills 59

An American may be among the dead. Toll is blamed in part on lack of proper equipment.

October 30, 2002|From Associated Press

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — A massive blaze tore through a large building in downtown Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 100.

Firefighters battled the inferno for hours, but inadequate equipment and intense flames and heat kept them from reaching many victims trapped in the Saigon International Trade Center, a six-story building that housed shops, offices and a popular disco.

A wedding reception with about 500 guests was being held in the building when the fire broke out, Ho Chi Minh City Television said, and an American insurance company with offices there was conducting a training seminar for about 100 employees.

At least two Britons and possibly a Vietnamese American were among the dead, but officials had not named them. Six insurance company employees were reported missing.

Firefighters used ladder trucks to help some people escape from the roof, but they were unable to reach at least one man who cried for help from a window because they lacked the proper equipment. Flames raged at other windows.

"What is worrying is that firefighters were not equipped with the necessary equipment to put out the fire," Vietnam Television said. "It took them more than three hours to bring the water hose inside the building, and sometimes they did not have enough water."

The American International Assurance Co. was conducting a training program for insurance agents when the fire began, a company official said. In addition to the six missing employees, about 30 were injured, some seriously, the official said.

Hospital officials said more than 100 people were hospitalized, many with serious injuries -- some from burns and some from leaps from windows. State media said the death toll was likely to rise.

Police were still investigating the cause of the fire but suspected an electrical short circuit, the official Vietnam News Agency said

Mayor Le Thanh Hai said the fire was the city's worst in both loss of life and property damage.

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