DOHA — Investigators in Qatar have opened a state-ordered probe into a mall fire that killed 19 people, including 13 children at a daycare center catering to the Gulf nation’s expatriate communities.
The inquest began Tuesday amid questions by Qatari commentators and others about permitting such child care centers in commercial buildings.
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 youngsters 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 defense personnel also died, the Qatari interior ministry said.
Footage posted online showed black smoke billowing from the up market, 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 A.M. (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 defense 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. — Agencies