Joburg EMS says the number of fatalities keep rising as search and recovery operation continues.
Johannesburg Emergency Management Services (EMS) who enacted a search and recovery operation in the Joburg CBD building that was gutted by fire said the building was turned into an informal settlement by those occupying it.
At least 73 people, including a one-year-old child, have died in the devastating fire in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Over 52 other people are injured, with the number likely to increase.
Joburg EMS spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said the number of fatalities keep rising as the search and recovery operation continues at the five storey building that was engulfed in flames.
“The building has been turned into an informal settlement with an estimate of over 80 shacks. The fire spread very quickly affecting different levels of the building because of the combustible materials used.
“Firefighters managed to evacuate all the people out of the building and are currently busy with damping down. EMS will conduct preliminary investigations to determine what caused the fire after firefighting operations are done.”
Mulaudzi said the City of Johannesburg Disaster Management is on the scene to facilitate relief for affected families.
“Chaplains are attending to bereaved families to offer counselling,” he said.
Earlier, City of Joburg MMC for public safety Dr Mgcini Tshwaku said the devastation caused by the blaze was made worse by a locked security gate, which led to dozens being squashed to death.
Tshwaku told media on the scene that a locked security gate caused further panic and disaster.
“A gate was closed, so people couldn’t get out. When firefighters came in they saw people who were smashed against a security gate,” he said.
Meanwhile, NGO Gift of the Givers has come to the aid of firefighters.
Founder Dr Imtiaz Sooliman said his team will support the firefighters with refreshments and energy food, and will also work with the City of Johannesburg to see how best to assist the victims.
Gauteng Health’s head of communications Motalatale Modiba said MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko will visit patients at Helen Joseph Hospital following the tragic incident.
“The MEC has sent a message of condolences to families who have lost loved ones and wishes those that are currently in hospital a speedy recovery,” Modiba said.
Additional reporting by Kyle Zeeman