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Residents flee deadly blaze at Vietnam apartment block

Police rescued more than 100 residents while more than 1,000 escaped the fire themselves.

Terrified residents signalled for help with lit mobile phones and crawled on to cranes from their balconies to escape a fire at a large apartment complex in Vietnam.

At least 13 people were killed and 28 injured in the blaze in Ho Chi Minh City, with police saying it was unclear if anyone was missing.

State media quoted the city’s police and fire department as saying police rescued more than 100 residents while more than 1,000 escaped the fire themselves.

“I did not hear any alarm or fire signals,” Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted resident Nguyen Ngoc Mai as saying.

“Rushing to the balcony, I could not see anything because there was a lot of smoke … I did not know what to do to save my life. Too panicked, but fortunately I was finally rescued.”

Firefighters extinguish the huge blaze in Ho Chi Minh City (VnExpress via AP)

“We were awakened by loud noise. We ran out of the apartment but there was a lot of smoke.

“We only had enough time to grab the mobile phone, wet some towels to cover ourselves and ran out,” online newspaper VnExpress quoted an unnamed male resident as saying.

The three buildings with 14 to 20 floors have more than 700 apartments. They were built six years ago in Vietnam’s southern commercial hub, formerly called Saigon.

State media said most people died of suffocation or jumping from high floors.

The official Vietnam News Agency said more than 200 firefighters worked more than an hour to put the fire under control.

The fire started in the basement garage, with state media saying doors that separated the garage from the upper floors should have been shut, but they were opened, which allowed the smoke to rise to the upper floors.

Firefighters use torches to look for people trapped in the blaze (VnExpress via AP)

Tuoi Tre quoted Ho Chi Minh City Mayor Nguyen Thanh Phong as saying he was told by residents that the fire alarm system did not work and they alerted others to the fire themselves.

The paper also quoted Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thanh Huong, the city’s chief fire officer, as saying previous government regulations allowed fire safety inspections four times a year, but current regulations only allow one inspection a year.

It was intended to reduce disturbing residents and businesses, but he said firefighters do not feel safe with the new regulations.

He also said there were cases, particularly in cheap apartment buildings, where inferior alarm systems falsely went off and residents switched them off.

Major General Phan Anh Minh, the city’s deputy police chief, told state media the fire could have started from a motorbike’s electrical system but the possibility of explosions has not been ruled out.

In 2002, a fire at a trade centre in central Ho Chi Minh City killed 60 people in one of Vietnam’s worst fires.

Press Association

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