Johannesburg Fire: A Tragic Night of Death and Despair

A massive fire that broke out in a five-storey building in the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa, has claimed the lives of at least 74 people, including 12 children, in one of the deadliest fires worldwide in recent years. The blaze, which started around midnight on Thursday, also injured 61 people who were rushed to hospital for treatment.

A Building Turned Into a Death Trap

The building, which had been abandoned and taken over by homeless people looking for shelter, was described by officials as an “informal settlement” where hundreds of people lived in cramped and unsafe conditions. According to witnesses, there were no fire exits or sprinklers in the building, and people had to use candles and open fires for lighting and heating.

The fire spread quickly through the building, trapping many residents inside. Some of them tried to escape by jumping out of the windows or using makeshift ropes made of sheets and clothes. Others screamed for help and shouted “we’re dying in here” as the flames engulfed them.

Firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes, but faced difficulties in accessing the building and rescuing the victims. They had to deal with obstructions, smoke, heat and falling debris as they searched for survivors. It took them three hours to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to nearby buildings.

Johannesburg Fire: A Tragic Night of Death and Despair

A Night of Horror and Grief

As the sun rose over Johannesburg, the extent of the tragedy became clear. Bodies lay covered in emergency blankets on a street near the site of the fire, while relatives and friends of the victims gathered outside, hoping for a miracle. Some of them broke down in tears as they identified their loved ones among the dead. Others frantically searched for any signs of life among the rubble.

One woman, who was looking for her daughter, said: “This is not a place where somebody can live. I was trying to get her to come back home so she could get back to the life she was living before.” Another man, who lost his wife and two children in the fire, said: “I don’t know what to do now. They were everything to me.”

The authorities have set up a temporary shelter and a counselling centre for the survivors and the bereaved families. They have also launched an investigation into the cause of the fire and the safety standards of the building. The mayor of Johannesburg, Mpho Parks Tau, visited the scene and expressed his condolences to the victims. He said: “This is a very sad day for our city. We will do everything we can to assist those affected by this tragedy and to prevent such incidents from happening again.”

A Chronic Problem of Housing Shortage

The fire has highlighted the chronic problem of housing shortage and homelessness in Johannesburg, which is home to more than five million people. Many of them live in informal settlements or “hijacked buildings”, which are abandoned or illegally occupied by squatters who pay rent to criminal syndicates. These buildings are often dilapidated, overcrowded and lack basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation.

According to a report by the city’s Department of Development Planning, there are more than 500 hijacked buildings in Johannesburg, housing about 45,000 people. The report also stated that these buildings pose a serious risk of fire, collapse and disease outbreaks.

The city has been trying to address this issue by reclaiming some of these buildings and converting them into affordable housing units or social amenities. However, this process has been slow and met with resistance from some of the occupants and landlords who refuse to vacate or cooperate with the authorities.

The fire has also sparked a debate on how to balance the rights and needs of the homeless people with the safety and security of the city. Some have called for stricter enforcement of building regulations and eviction of illegal occupants, while others have urged for more humane and inclusive solutions that respect the dignity and dignity of all residents.

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