SA teacher, toddler killed in Qatar nursery blaze

2012-05-28 22:05

Cape Town - Two South Africans, a woman and an 18-month-old boy, were among those killed in a fire at an upscale mall in Doha, Qatar, on Monday.

A fire started at a nursery at the Villaggio mall, where 13 toddlers were killed, along with four female teachers, as well as two firefighters who were battling the blaze.

The woman, who her father confirmed to eNews to be 28-year-old Shameega Charles from Cape Town, was a teacher at the Gympanzee nursery.

Her father Faiek said they had last spoken to her on Saturday to wish her well for her birthday.

The 18-month-old child, also said to be from Cape Town, has not yet been named.

The children who died were aged between one and three and were trapped in the nursery, for more than two hours, Sky News reported.

Firefighters had to break through the roof to get to trapped children after a staircase to the first-floor nursery collapsed, Qatar's state minister for the interior Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani said.

Dense smoke inside the mall combined with the fierce temperature from the flames made reaching the trapped children very difficult, a representative of the civil defence told a news conference.

Health Minister Khaled al-Qahtani said 17 people were injured in the blaze, mostly firefighters.

Reuters reported that it was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, and Qatar's interior ministry said an investigation was under way.

Witnesses questioned safety measures at the mall, saying there were no sprinklers, and that alarms were barely audible.

"There don't seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall," a relative of a 2-year-old child who died in the fire told the news agency, speaking by phone from Qatar's Hamad Hospital.

Another witness who spoke to Al Jazeera also said the sprinkler system was not working.

He told the news website that he initially saw green smoke, and soon after that it turned black and then very heavy.

An American woman living in Doha told CNN she was walking in the mall when she heard a buzzing noise.

"As I walked back to where I had parked and heard a buzzer, not very loud, and a little bit of smoke, it looked like a store had had a small fire," Christine Wigton said.

"When I got a little bit closer I realised the smoke was just increasing and people were still shopping. And the smoke kept getting heavier and heavier."

She told CNN that there were no sprinklers and there was nothing that would tell somebody that something was wrong."

The mall, which opened in 2006, is an Italianate-themed shopping complex with a hotel, theme park and canal plied by gondolas.

One of the Gulf country's largest and most popular shopping malls, it also contains a cinema, and an ice rink.

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