Twenty dead after fireguts central Paris hotel

15th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - Fire swept through a Paris hotel occupied mainly by immigrant families early Friday, killing at least 20 people, 10 of them children, in one of the deadliest blazes in the French capital in 30 years.

PARIS, April 15 (AFP) - Fire swept through a Paris hotel occupied mainly by immigrant families early Friday, killing at least 20 people, 10 of them children, in one of the deadliest blazes in the French capital in 30 years.  

A firefighter at the scene said seven of the victims died when they leapt from windows to escape the flames, which destroyed the six-story Paris-Opera hotel, located behind the upmarket Galeries Lafayette department store.  

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

Firemen continued to search the top two floors for victims, battling smoke and dangerously weak floors.  

Witnesses described scenes of panic as hotel guests jumped or threw their children from the upper floors of the burning building in desperate efforts to save their lives.   "I saw bodies, windows in flames, people crying out for help. People on the first floor threw their children out the windows," Alfred Millot, head of Galeries Lafayette's fire service, told AFP.  

"With our own equipment, we started fighting the fire from the ground floor. It's hard in that kind of situation to tell people to calm down. They jumped."  

Several prostitutes working in small hotels in the area also witnessed the tragedy unfold, and helped to save some hotel guests.  

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 the windows, landing with a dull thud".  

The burned bodies of several victims were found in the hotel 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."  

Half of the 20 dead were children, including one baby. Eleven of the more than 50 others hurt suffered serious injuries, including burns, multiple fractures and smoke inhalation, police said.  

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 district after the fire broke out at about 2:00 am (0000 GMT).  

Firefighters had the blaze under control by 3:30 am, but the last flames were only extinguished just before 6:00 am.  

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 in storerooms near the ground-floor cosmetics department, but the store opened as usual to shoppers.  

The Red Cross set up an emergency post nearby to offer psychological counselling to survivors.  

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", a police source told AFP.   The source said experts believed the fire could have started in a first floor room with a microwave.  

Officials said in addition to a handful of tourists, 80 people were staying at the 32-room budget hotel in rooms rented by the city and charitable organizations for families in need, many of them immigrants.  

Several government ministers visited the scene, as did Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe.   Paris police chief Pierre Mutz said the hotel did not appear to have any safety problems, and that the high death toll could be explained by the sudden spread of the fire, which caused widespread panic.  

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 had been inspected last month.  

"If there had been a problem, the hotel would have been closed," said fire service spokesman Christophe Varenne.

 © AFP


Deadliest French fires since 1970  

- A fire swept through a hotel in the Paris Opera district early Friday, killing 20 people, including 10 children, and injuring dozens more, making it one of the deadliest since 1970.   Following is a chronology of the worst fires.     

- Nov 1, 1970: Blaze sweeps through the packed "Cinq-sept" nightclub in Saint-Laurent-du-Pont near Grenoble, killing 146 revellers, the most lethal fire in France since the start of the 20th century.     

- Aug 18, 1972: Twelve elderly people are killed in a fire at a retirement home in Ris-Orangis, south of Paris. Worn-out electrical wiring was to blame.     

- Feb 7, 1973: Secondary school fire in Paris' 19th district, lit by teenagers who thought the building was empty, kills 20, including 16 children.     

- Aug 11, 1976: A fire at the Hotel d'Amerique in central Paris kills 13 people, most of them immigrants.     

- April 22, 1980: Suspected arson attack kills 32 at an old people's home in Saint-Jean-de-Losne, eastern France.     

- May 25, 1982: Medical school blaze kills 24 in the Aire-sur-Adour, in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France.     

- Jan 9, 1985: 24 elderly people, most bedridden, perish in a fire set off by mistake at an old people's home in Granvilliers, northern France.      

- March 8, 1989: 15 die and 10 are injured in an arson attack at building in  Belfort, eastern France.     

- June 27, 1991: A fire at a spa in Barbaton-les-Thermes, southern France, leaves 21 dead and 11 injured after an accident during renovation work.     

- June 25 1993: A psychiatric clinic in Bruz, northwest France, is destroyed in a blaze which kills 19 patients and a carer and injures 35 others.     

- Dec 7 1998: Thirteen elderly people die when their retirement home north of Paris goes on fire, and 22 more are injured.     

- March 24 1999: A Belgian lorry catches fire for unexplained reasons in a tunnel under Mont Blanc, southeast France, causing an inferno that kills 39 people.     

- Jan 2 2002: 12 elderly people die in a blaze at another retirement home, this time in Saint-Bonnet-de-Mure, southern France. 


Subject: French News


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