Children thrown from windows in six-storey blaze

15th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - Night watchmen and prostitutes, the first witnesses to a deadly Paris hotel fire early Friday, begged for calm as hysterical parents threw their children from the windows of the burning building.

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - Night watchmen and prostitutes, the first witnesses to a deadly Paris hotel fire early Friday, begged for calm as hysterical parents threw their children from the windows of the burning building.  

"I saw bodies, windows in flames, people crying out for help," Alfred Millot, head of the fire service at the nearby upmarket Galeries Lafayette department store, told AFP.  

"It's hard in that kind of situation to tell people to calm down. They jumped. People on the first floor threw their children out the windows," Millot added.  

At least 20 people were killed and dozens of others injured, 11 of them seriously, in the early-morning fire that gutted the six-story one-star Paris-Opera hotel, located near the historic Garnier opera house.  

Millot said that store security staff had alerted him at 2:20 am to the fire in the building opposite on the rue de Provence, in the French capital's ninth district.  

"With our own equipment, we started fighting the fire from the ground floor. I came running and people were already jumping through the windows," said Millot, whose store warehouse was put into use as a temporary morgue.  

The hotel only had only exit - the front door. One official said the number of victims would have been far lower had residents remained in their rooms and not tried to flee the flames.  

Several prostitutes in the neighbourhood also witnessed the blaze.  

Some "jumped from the windows, landing with a dull thud," said Laure, 41, who had been alerted by heart-rending cries for help.  

She said she and other women had helped one man escape the blaze after he scrambled out of a skylight and climbed across rooftops of adjacent buildings.  

Another woman who spoke on condition of anonymity said she had seen people jump, including one man who leapt from the third floor.   

A haggard American tourist heading back to his hotel to pack up and go home said he had also been woken by screams.  

"I was awoken by screaming, but I didn't at first realise just how serious this was," he said, as staff from the nearby department stores began to arrive for work with thick smoke still rising from the hotel.  

The Red Cross set up a help centre nearby where weeping and traumatised families gathered Friday, and a man and a woman were seeking help to find their respective children.  

Among the injured were French, Senegalese, Portuguese, Ivorian, American, Ukrainian and Tunisian nationals. No information was immediately available about the identities of the dead.  

More than 250 firefighters and emergency personnel rushed to the scene in the city's ninth district after the fire broke out at about 2:00 am.  

Firefighters had the blaze under control by 3:30 am, but the last flames were only extinguished just before 6:00 am. But they were continuing to search the top two floors for victims, battling thick smoke and weakened floors.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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