x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Hunt for answers over Qatar mall fire that killed 19

Around 2,000 people attended funeral for a teacher and boy, both South Africans and one of the fire fighters killed at the Villaggio Mall fire With audio interview with Doha News editor Omar Chatriwala.

New Zealand triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes died in a fire at the Villaggio mall in Doha, Qatar along with 10 other children and six adults.
New Zealand triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes died in a fire at the Villaggio mall in Doha, Qatar along with 10 other children and six adults.

DOHA // Investigators continue to scoure the Villaggio shopping mall in Doha for clues to a fire that killed 19 people, 13 of them children, as heartbroken relatives and friends begin to bury the victims.

Triplets from New Zealand were among the children who perished in yesterday’s blaze in the Venice-themed Villaggio centre in the Qatar capital.

More than 2,000 people attended the funeral of a South African boy, a South African paediatric nurse and an Iranian fire fighter in Doha. All three victims were Muslim.

All 19 dead were expatriates, including three triplets from New Zealand, four Spanish children and the South African boy buried today, according to Captain Mubarak Al Bouainain, head of information at Qatar’s ministry of interior.

Newspapers in the Gulf state raised questions over the licensing of a nursery in the middle of a huge mall, where the children and four teachers, including three from the Philippines and one South African, died of of smoke inhalation.

In Wellington, Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand triplets, believed to be three-year-olds, were among those who died in the inferno.

The children’s grandparents were flying to Qatar to support the family and New Zealand consular officials were offering assistance, he added, describing the incident as “a great tragedy.”

Radio New Zealand named the triplets as Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes.

Four of the children who died were Spanish, said a foreign ministry spokeswoman in Madrid, while Paris announced that a three-year-old French child also perished.

Two civil defence personnel also died, the Qatari interior ministry said.

President of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa, Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, all sent condolences. Condolences were also sent by Sheikha Fatima, widow of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President.

Footage posted online showed black smoke billowing from the upmarket, Venice-themed complex as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. Other pictures showed rescue workers carrying children on the roof of the mall.

The fire broke out at the Gympanzee nursery, or possibly near it.

“The first report of fire at Villaggio was received by the operations centre at 11:02 am (0802 GMT),” state minister for the interior Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani said, according to the QNA state news agency, adding that police and civil defence reached the site within minutes.

He said it became clear that 20 children were at the first-floor nursery and “all efforts were concentrated on evacuating those kids”, adding firefighters had to break through the roof to gain access after a staircase collapsed.

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

Health Minister Khaled Al Qahtani said all the fatalities were caused by asphyxiation, adding that 17 people were injured, mostly firefighters.

Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani ordered a special commission set up to probe the deadly blaze, the Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite television station reported.

The blaze at the Villaggio mall left 19 dead in total, including 13 children -- seven girls and six boys -- and four female teachers, the Qatari interior ministry said on its Twitter account, citing the health minister.

In Madrid, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said: “Four of the dead children are Spanish,” adding that Spanish embassy officials were trying to get more details.

Yamina Benguigui, the minister in charge of French expatriates, announced in Paris that a French child died, but declined to give any further details, including whether the victim was a boy or a girl.

“It is with great sorrow that I confirm that a French child aged three is among the victims,” she said in a statement.

Community news Tumblr Doha News posted a note from South African Maryam Charles saying that her daughter, Shameega Charles, 29, who was a teacher at the nursery, “perished in the blaze.”

It also said that an 18-month-old South African was among the dead, in addition to a Moroccan firefighter.

In Manila, a foreign department spokesman said three Philippine teachers who worked at the nursery died of smoke inhalation.

“Did this nursery meet the conditions to get a license,” said Al Watan daily, addressing its question to the ministry of social affairs.

“We await answers over how it was allowed that kids of such age could be at a place not sufficiently equipped,” it said.

“It is negligence that is resembles a premeditated murder,” charged Saleh Al Kawari, editor-in-chief of Al Raya daily in his editorial.

“This is a real catastrophe,” he said.





* With additional reporting from Agence-France Presse