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.

  • jimmy.james.509511 - 2012-05-28 23:49

    How very sad and tragic, my heart goes out to everybody involved.

  • nerizl - 2012-05-29 00:24

    This is such a sad day for the whole of Doha. My heart and prayers go out to all of those involved.

  • docjimmie - 2012-05-29 03:20

    its funny a country with the highest GDP in the world cannot afford to properly ensure it's shopping malls are fire safe. how disgusting to the the nation concerned. try changing your outlook Qatar. !!!!! and catch a rude wake those kids didn't deserve that

  • Boereroo - 2012-05-29 03:44

    Too much money spent on glamour and luring western shoppers, but neglecting safety? Hope they face a class act of billions. This is where the soccer world cup is taking place so one wonders what the stadiums will be like where thousands of people will be crammed into.

      desiree.bubb - 2012-05-29 07:32

      I was there in January and I have a daughter, Son in-law and a grandson living there. They do not need Western shoppers. They are the richest country in the world beating Dubai. But I agree with you on safety issues and my daughter says their electrical system could be better. A wonderful clean, absolutely crime free country with some electrical safety issues. But it could happen anywhere.

  • Roeks - 2012-05-29 06:48

    Very sad day here in Doha, thoughts go out to the South African families

  • Carla - 2012-05-29 06:59

    So sad. RIP little ones

  • lerato.kay.3 - 2012-05-29 08:40


  • Bomb - 2012-05-29 08:56

    I work in a Mall in the middle east, and the most important emergency service features are the sprinkler systems and alarm systems. Here the alarm sensors are so sensitive that it is sometimes triggered by the steam from a boiling kettle, and each and every alarm is inspected within 3 minutes by the elect/mech and security supervisors to confirm the cause and make decisions. After that, the evacuation procedures are activated to get everyone out. This process must be practised every six months to keep tenants aware of the processes. We have twice had fires above floor 20 of one of the buildings on our premises and both times these fires were contained to one single room and extinguished due to a sufficient warning system, suppression system and the reaction time of our staff. This tragedy points to gross shortcomings in this mall's emergency procedures, initial alarms, investigating, and evacuating and sounds like the complete absence of a PA system. If they had a very extensive CCTV system and competent control room with experienced staff and detailed escalation procedures, this would also have given enough advance warning to act. I think the mall management are going to have to answer a lot of tough questions, and I can guess that they didn't want to spend "unnecessary" money to ensure their shoppers and tenants are safe.

      gailcarolynhayes - 2012-05-29 16:23

      My experience dealing with representatives (women and one male) in the Transit dept of Doha airport were also an eyeopener to how ill prepared the people dealing with the public are and how rude and dismissive they are. A riot almost broke out when I was there in the middle of the night with upwards of 400 people being served by 2 women. There was NO ORGANISATION, APOLOGY OR EXPLANATION given to these people all speaking different langauges who had boarding passes issued at their point of departure for their onward journey only to be turned away at the boarding gate and sent to this melee. One guy had been waiting for 18 hours to get to Vienna and nobody would speak to him. Another woman had her passport and papers taken away and then they refused to give it back. Security were called to take her away! This was at an internatiional airport and they had no plan on how to deal with people. Us Saffas idebtified one another through Afrikaans and withdrew and had just one person representing 14 of us. 7 hours later we made a flight to Nairobi where God bless the staff we received first world and faultless service. So this story doesn't surprise me. My sympathy to all those who lost loved ones. Money won't bring them back but it will hopefully make the owners install the necessary safety equipment to avoid a repeat. This was my 2nd experience of this kind at Doha. I shall not fly QATAR ever again.

  • Fatima - 2012-05-29 09:10

    how do u claim to have the largest mall and there is no spinkler excuses for that im sorry !!! THAT IS NEGLIGENCE.

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