At least 73 people have died and dozens have been injured after a fire engulfed a five-storey building housing “hundreds” of informal settlements in central Johannesburg.
Officials said they moved upstairs through the building, searching for survivors, pulling out charred bodies and laying them in the streets. According to local media, the children are believed to have been killed.
Rescue officials said that the fire has now been extinguished.
Except for the dead, More than 50 others were injured, said Robert Muladzi, a spokesman for the city’s emergency services.
Videos taken within minutes of the fire program Large orange flames engulfed the ground floor of a building and scores of people were standing outside.
Photos from Thursday morning showed onlookers huddled around burnt and cordoned areas, broken glass windows and clothes strewn around the building.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but officials at the scene reported no signs that it was intentional. The fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. local time while many people were sleeping inside the building.
It happened in a “hijacked” building in central Johannesburg, Muladzi said, referring to what he said were “hundreds” of apartments inside.
Found in many parts of Johannesburg, “hijacked” buildings refer to buildings that have been abandoned by landlords and taken over by gangs or other groups, and are often leased to immigrants and South Africans who cannot afford other types of housing.
This type of housing often does not meet basic safety standards. Local officials at the scene described the building as an informal settlement, saying that the apartments in the building, intended to house only two or three people, were divided into sleeping areas to accommodate multiple people.
In South Africa, “hijacked buildings” have been condemned and efforts have been made to bring in regulations. Officials have been criticized by some South Africans for failing to deal with the problem.
South Africa has seen other devastating fires in recent months in informal settlements across the country.