GalleryFire fighters work on the scene of a deadly blaze that killed dozens of people in downtown Johannesburg [AP Photo]Published On 31 Aug 202331 Aug 2023
At least 74 people have been killed when a fire raged through a five-floor Johannesburg apartment building.
The building was gutted, blackened by soot and still smouldering on Thursday as emergency services gathered around it and bodies lay covered in blankets on a nearby street.
At least 12 of those killed were children, the youngest a one-year-old, according to city and medical officials.
They said at a news conference that an undetermined number of people were still missing and many bodies recovered were burned beyond recognition.
More than 50 people were injured, six of whom were in a serious condition in the hospital. Emergency services officials had earlier warned that the death toll could rise as they continued to search the scene more than 12 hours later.
Authorities have not established the cause of the fire but Mgcini Tshwaku, a local government official, said initial evidence suggested it started with a candle.
Inhabitants used candles and fires for light and to keep warm in the winter cold, he said.
Johannesburg officials initially suggested the building had been occupied by squatters, but Lebogang Isaac Maile, the head of the Human Settlements department for Gauteng province, said some of those who died may have been renting from, or were being extorted by criminal gangs. [Theme Hadebe/AP Photo]Johannesburg remains one of the world’s most unequal cities with widespread poverty, joblessness and a housing crisis. It has about 15,000 homeless people, according to the Gauteng government. [Jerome Delay/AP Photo]The building, which has been evacuated, is located in what used to be the business district of South Africa’s economic hub. [Jerome Delay/AP Photo]The building was raided by police in 2019, when 140 foreigners were arrested for illegally collecting rent, Johannesburg city manager Floyd Brink said. [Jerome Delay/AP Photo]Forensic experts cover corpses at the scene of a deadly blaze in downtown Johannesburg. [Theme Hadebe/AP Photo]
Illegal occupation of disused buildings in Johannesburg’s city centre is widespread, with many said to be under the control of criminal syndicates. [AP Photo]South Africa, with the continent’s most industrialised economy, attracts millions of migrants, many undocumented, from other African nations. [Theme Hadebe/AP Photo]”The scene this morning was a mess, there were bodies on the ground everywhere,” said Noma Mahlalela, 41, a resident, adding most people living at the premises were foreigners. [Theme Hadebe/AP Photo]