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At least 18 dead in S.African retirement home fire

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-01 16:26:43
At least 18 dead in S.African retirement home fire

JOHANNESBURG - A fire swept through a home for the elderly near Johannesburg, killing 18 people and leaving 84 homeless during the night, paramedics said Monday.

"Eighteen people are dead and 84 rescued," private emergency services provider Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha told AFP.

"The building was engulfed in flames and emergency personnel leaped into action to rescue the aged from the burning building," Botha said.

Scores were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, while one man was airlifted to hospital with burns on 40 percent of his body. Two others suffered serious injuries, he said.

The blaze broke out Sunday night at the Pieter Wessels home for the elderly in Nigel, east of Johannesburg.

By morning the fire had been extinguished but its cause was still under investigation, officials said.

"We are still busy assessing the situation," said Oyama Mdleleni, the local disaster management spokeswoman.

The flames gutted the building, leaving its white outer walls charred.

Nearby churches have taken in some of the pensioners left homeless by the blaze, and appealed for emergency supplies to help care for them.

Survivors appeared frail and confused as they sat in wheelchairs waiting for assistance during the cold winter night. A security guard told local radio that he battled to rescue the residents.

"The sisters just called me and said there is fire on the premises, and I ran but I realised the fire was too strong. We then tried to take out the other patients," the guard said.

"Maybe I saved eight or nine people but some of them were too big and I could not carry them," he added.

Rogers Mamaila, emergency services spokesman for the municipality of Ekurhuleni, said the blaze was the deadliest ever seen in the area.

"We have fought a lot of fires and evacuated many people, but we have not come to a point where the number of people that we have lost or evacuated was the same as this one," Mamaila told local radio.

The last major deadly fire in South Africa was on February 9 when 15 people died in a blaze at an orphanage, including 13 children.

BDST: 1146 HRS, August 02, 2010

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