Nineteen people, including 13 children, died Monday in a fire that raged through an upscale shopping mall in Doha, Qatar’s Interior Ministry said.
The fire centered around a children’s play area in the Villaggio Mall, a collection of shops and indoor canals.
The fire started late in the morning and centered on a children’s play area in the Villaggio Mall, a glittering collection of shops and indoor canals in Doha, the capital, frequented by expatriates in the oil-rich emirate. The ministry did not immediately provide the nationalities of those killed. Local news reports said no Qatari children were among the dead, and Reuters said four of the children who died in the fire were from Spain. French media reported that one French child died in the fire.
Thick smoke could be seen pouring from the building as emergency workers moved to contain the blaze. Photos posted online showed people who appeared to be injured, rescue workers clambering across a smoke-shrouded roof and a man in shirt sleeves holding a young child whose fate was not certain.
The fire at the mall, known for pricey shops, gondoliers and an indoor ice rink, raised troubling questions about the safety of even the most opulent buildings in the booming city, where shopping centers both provide air-conditioned respite from the desert heat and serve as de facto town squares for expatriates and wealthy Qataris. The deadly blaze prompted authorities to announce the creation of a committee to monitor building safety standards.
Al Jazeera, the Doha-based satellite broadcaster, carried reports of the fire, but for hours there was little mention on state-run Qatar TV, according to residents. Frantic messages appeared on social media sites throughout the day, with some reposting messages pleading for information on children at the mall’s Gympanzee play area.
The Interior Ministry offered little information until an evening news conference, while misinformation swirled online. “All are requested not spread rumours as it will create panic among people,” the ministry said in a statement hours before the news conference. “Be responsible persons and cooperate with security departments.”
The cause of the fire, which also injured 17 people, was still under investigation, the ministry said in the evening. Many of the injured were identified as members of the civil defense team responding to the fire. Four teachers and two firefighters were among the dead, the ministry said.
“There don’t seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall,” a relative of a 2-year-old killed in the fire told Reuters.
Qatar, a Connecticut-size sprout of land jutting into the Persian Gulf with a native population of 225,000, is home to more than 1.5 million expatriates mostly from Europe, Asia and the United States.
LWDLIK - OMG how awful, just terrifying. My condolences to those poor parents and family members.