At least 73 people have died and dozens injured after a fire broke out in a five-storey building in central Johannesburg that was converted into informal housing.
Officers moved upstairs through the building, searching for survivors and dragging charred bodies out into the streets. According to local media, the children are believed to have been killed.
Rescue officials said that the fire has now been extinguished.
Except for the dead, More than 50 others were injured, said Robert Muladzi, a spokesman for the city’s emergency services.
Wiseman Mbeba, who survived the fire, told CNN he woke up to people screaming. When he saw fire blocking the building’s exit, he broke his window but struggled to climb through.
Mbeba said he tried to tell others in the building to go through a gate to exit the building, but the gate was closed. “They closed the gate,” he told CNN on the ground. “After that, I have no plans. I sat (in my room).
The video was taken minutes after the fire program Large orange flames engulfed the ground floor of a building and scores of people were standing outside.
Photos taken from Thursday morning showed crowds of onlookers with burnt and cordoned areas, broken glass windows and clothes strewn around the building.
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but officials at the scene reported no signs that it was intentional. The fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. local time while many people were sleeping inside the building.
It happened in a “hijacked” building in central Johannesburg, Muladzi said, referring to what he said were hundreds of apartments inside.
The “hijacked” buildings found in many parts of the city of Johannesburg refer to buildings abandoned by landlords and taken over by gangs or other groups and are often immigrants and South Africans who cannot afford other types of housing.
Mbeba was staying in the building with members of his family, including his brother, sister and brother-in-law. Mbeba said he did not know where they were. “I had no plan because I lost everything,” he said.
Mpepa told CNN that he passed out from the smoke and did not remember how he got out of the fire safely. “The smoke got to me and then I fell down. I didn’t know anything after that.”
Another eyewitness, Kenny Bube, said the fire escape was closed and many people died from smoke inhalation.
“There were a lot of people you know, a lot of people, smoked … people suffocated, a lot of people died from the smoke because the pressure at the gate was too high, some gates were closed,” he said. told Reuters.
Another survivor, Omar Forte from Malawi, said he lost his sister and all his belongings in the fire.
“First I lost my sister. I have already lost three sisters,” he told Reuters, adding that he left all his belongings inside the burning building as he tried to save his life.
“My sister left her little daughter, my mother-in-law hit the window and threw her daughter out, people (on the ground) caught her daughter hot in the air,” he added.
This type of housing often does not meet basic safety standards. Local officials at the scene described the building as an informal settlement, with apartments in the building intended to house only two or three people, divided into sleeping areas to accommodate multiple people.
In South Africa, “hijacked buildings” have been condemned and efforts have been made to bring in regulations. Officials have been criticized by some South Africans for failing to deal with the problem.
South Africa has seen other devastating fires in informal settlements across the country in recent months, though Thursday’s was the worst in recent memory.