Paris hotel blaze kills 20

15th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - Fire swept through a central Paris hotel filled with immigrants and tourists early Friday, killing at least 20 people, 10 of them children, and injuring more than 50 others in one of the deadliest blazes in the French capital in 20 years.

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - Fire swept through a central Paris hotel filled with immigrants and tourists early Friday, killing at least 20 people, 10 of them children, and injuring more than 50 others in one of the deadliest blazes in the French capital in 20 years.

Witnesses and firefighters said some guests leapt from windows to escape the blaze, which destroyed the six-story one-star Paris-Opera hotel, located behind the upmarket Galeries Lafayette department store and near the Opera Garnier.

As an investigation got under way, a police source said the cause of the blaze at the hotel - used both by ordinary tourists and as temporary housing for needy families - was "undoubtedly accidental."

Investigators at the scene "have not found, according to their preliminary tests, any evidence that would lead us to think this was a criminal fire", the source told AFP.

Alfred Millot, head of Galeries Lafayette's fire service, saw hotel residents jump from the upper floors and throw their children through windows in desperate efforts to save their lives.

"With our own equipment, we started fighting the fire from the ground floor. I came running and people were already jumping through the windows. I saw bodies, windows in flames, people crying out for help," he 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.

Several prostitutes working in small hotels in the area also witnessed the fire.

One of them, Laure, a 41-year-old brunette, said she heard "screams and cries for help" from the guests who were sleeping when the fire broke out, some of whom jumped from their windows, landing on the street with a "thud".

She told AFP she and several others helped some women in the hotel to escape through a skylight window.

The bodies of several victims were found in the rooms, and one firefighter was seen struggling to bring the body of a woman down a ladder.

French President Jacques Chirac called the blaze "one of the most painful catastrophes that has ever plunged Paris into mourning", adding: "This drama gives us all a feeling of horror and has deeply upset us."

Ten of the 20 dead were children, including one baby. Eleven of the more than 50 others injured suffered serious injuries. Two firefighters were slightly hurt.

Emergency services said the death toll could still rise. One official said the number of dead would have been much lower had residents remained in their rooms and not tried to flee the flames.

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 arrondissement 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.

The acrid smell of smoke permeated the air several blocks away from the scene hours after the blaze had been doused. Police closed several roads near the hotel to traffic.

An emergency medical centre and a makeshift morgue were set up in Galeries Lafayette near the ground-floor cosmetics department. The Red Cross set up an emergency post nearby to offer psychological counselling to survivors.

One couple at the Red Cross post near the Trinity church were still awaiting word of their missing children.

Paris police chief Pierre Mutz said 75 people were staying at the 32-room budget hotel, which local residents said was home to numerous immigrant families, many of them African.

A fire department official said many of the rooms at the hotel had been rented by the Paris town hall and the welfare department to house needy families.

Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin visited the scene as did Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe.

Mutz said the hotel did not appear to have any safety problems. He said the high number of victims was because the fire broke out suddenly and spread very quickly, causing widespread panic.

The police chief brushed aside suggestions that 100 people were housed in the building. "That is false," he said.

Firefighters said the only way out of the hotel was the main entrance, but the staircase down was quickly engulfed in flames and many residents were trapped on upper floors.

They added that safety regulations did not necessarily require additional exits, and that the building was subject to regular safety checks.


Subject: French News

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