Kiwi triplets among 19 killed in mall fire

PALOMA MIGONE, MICHAEL FIELD AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 08:24 29/05/2012

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LATEST: Kiwi triplets are among the 19 killed in a large fire at a Qatar mall, Prime Minister John Key has confirmed.

Qatari officials said 19 people, 13 of them children, were dead in the fire in Doha.

The triplets, Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes, were among those killed.

Key said this morning that the family of the two-year-old triplets had been in Qatar "for some time".

"It's a great tragedy."

The triplets' New Zealand-based grandparents were leaving for Qatar this evening.

Key said New Zealand consular staff were on their way from nearby Saudia Arabia to help return the bodies to New Zealand.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said he did not know where the family were from in New Zealand.

At least some of the victims died as rescuers struggled to reach a child care centre at the Villaggio mall in the capital Doha, according to Qatar's Minister of State for Interior Affairs, Sheik Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani.

It is understood a stairway to the childcare centre collapsed, making it harder to reach the centre. Witnesses also said at least one exit in the mall was chained shut.

Key said the triplets were in the childcare centre at the time of the fire.

"The family are obviously dealing with terrible grief."

"It's a very tragic day for that family."

There would be a full investigation into the fire.

"Obviously there are very serious questions that will need to be answered."

The New Zealand Consul in Saudi Arabia would help the family bring the bodies of the triplets back to New Zealand.

There was no information about whether any other New Zealanders were injured in the fire and the Government had not been briefed on reported safety concerns at the mall, Key said.

Doha News has unconfirmed reports that the top two managers of Villaggio have been arrested and will go to court, possibly facing charges tomorrow morning.

MALL MADNESS

Tarek Bazley, a former Radio New Zealand journalist working in Doha, said he was in the mall with his two children when the alarm went off.

"We were at the mall, in a large play area and a fire alarm went off. It was a very benign fire alarm, almost like a door bell. It certainly wasn't alarming like you would expect a fire alarm to be.

"I asked the attendant on the soft play area if it was something that we should be worried about. He said 'not at all. We had a fire alarm yesterday, don't worry'. So we continued," Bazley said.

"About 15 minutes later, a member of the public ran through and said 'you've got to get out, there is a fire in the mall'.

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"We went out through a fire door that was luckily quite close to where we were and it was there that you could see the plumes of smoke coming out of the centre of the mall. Huge volumes of black smoke."

He said a friend was eating at a restaurant in the mall before seeing the smoke and going to the first fire escape that he noticed, only to find it was actually chained shut.

"They then had to leave by the service exit."

Bazley said he wanted to leave quickly, but found it difficult because of the traffic.

"A lot of rubberneckers on the road and people on the nearby main street. It took us almost an hour to leave the area."

He said the minister of the interior had held a press conference, where he said there had been some malfunctioning of the alarm and sprinkler system.

"I think the key to this is the location of the [childcare facility]. It was in the centre of the mall. There were two entrances to the childcare area and I believe both of them ended up being caught in the fire.

"From what the minister of the interior said, a set of stairs fell, which meant accessing the play area was difficult, which is why they had to go in through the ceiling."

Bazley said the childcare facility was called Gympanzee. It was drop-in nursery for people who wanted to shop in the mall and needed to leave their kids for a couple of hours.

Expat New Zealander Matt Scherer said the mall's fire alarms were not working properly and people inside were unaware until the smoke engulfed it.
 
"The sad thing is it is rumoured to be [an] electrical [fault] which is another area of shocking expertise here. I hope they learn from this," he said.

- Fairfax Media

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