As survivors rushed to evacuate a burning building in Johannesburg in South Africa, in the early hours of Thursday, the last words they heard from those who could not escape were “we are dying”.
The City of Johannesburg Emergency Management Services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi has confirmed that at least 64 people have been killed and more than 40 injured in a fire that broke out in the Osindiso building at around 1.30am.
The scene in Johannesburg is horrific, with at least 20 covered bodies laid on the street. There are also rows of fire trucks and ambulances where the building caught fire, with police officers also at the scene.
The cause of the fire at the five-storey building in the ‘City of Gold’ is unclear, according to Mr Mulaudzi. However, as per reports, the fire was started by a burning candle.
A resident described the chaos that ensued on the South African television channel Newzroom Afrika: “I just heard people screaming ‘we are dying’, but I thought maybe I was dreaming.”
The survivor managed to take his ID book and mobile phone but, like everyone else, lost everything else.
A firefighter at the scene told Power 98.7 Radio in South Africa that many of the victims of the fire were likely trapped by informal settlements inside the building.
“The picture is of an informal settlement inside the building. The combustible material which is burning inside the building is mostly like the one you find in a normal shack, so the risk of you being trapped as you try to escape is high,” the firefighter said.
According to multiple reports in South Africa, the occupants of the building were mostly immigrants.
The area where the building is located is an inner-city neighbourhood that is known for buildings that have been illegally occupied by people, some of whom may be undocumented immigrants.