DEVELOPING STORYDEVELOPING STORY,
Emergency services say death toll may rise as blaze guts multistorey building in central business district.
At least 63 people have been killed and more than 40 treated for injuries following a fire at a multistorey building in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, local media and an emergency worker said.
Johannesburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the blaze on Thursday morning had gutted a building located in the city’s central business district, and the death toll was continuing to rise with 63 bodies recovered from the site so far.
“Latest update 63 bodies recovered and 43 injured,” Mulaudzi said in a post on social media.
“Still continuing with search and recovery operation,” Mulaudzi said.
At least one child was among the dead, and those injured in the blaze are receiving treatment at “various health care facilities”, he said earlier.
Latest update 63 bodies recoverd and 43 injured still continuing with search and recovery operation
— Cojems Spokesperson (@RobertMulaudzi) August 31, 2023
Mulaudzi said the building was effectively an “informal settlement” where homeless people had moved into looking for accommodation without any formal lease agreements. He said that made it hard for rescue workers to search the building.
There might have been as many as 200 people living in the building, witnesses said.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Johannesburg, said the death toll has risen sharply from the fire, which broke out in the early hours of the morning in an abandoned building that had been taken over and used as informal accommodation.
“The building is an abandoned building, and once that has happened it’s then taken over, in what they say in South Africa, it’s ‘hijacked’ and the rooms are rented out to people,” Miller said.
“The building was densely populated. The emergency services said that there were no regulations within the building. We’ve also heard from the council that the building should have been condemned,” she said.
“There were very few restrictions in terms of safety,” she added.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, according to South Africa’s News24 online news site.
Though the fire was largely extinguished on Thursday morning, smoke could be seen seeping from windows of the blackened building.
Strings of sheets and other materials also hung out of some of the windows. It was not clear if people had used those to try and escape the fire or if they were trying to save their possessions.