At least 73 bodies have been recovered from the Johannesburg building where a fire broke out on Thursday morning. Scores more were transported to hospital for treatment. A search-and-recovery operation is still under way.
Zabi Khumalo, 37, jumped from the fourth floor of the five-storey building that caught fire in the early hours of Thursday morning. “I had to watch as they took my dead girlfriend outside the flat,” he said.
Tenants of the building say the fire started in one of the shacks erected inside the building. “I was sleeping with my girlfriend when we woke up to people screaming that the building was on fire. We were on the fourth floor. The last time [he saw her alive], we were holding hands, running in the passage. I don’t know what happened to her after that,” a grief-stricken Khumalo said.
The next time he saw her was in the morning, “as they covered her with foil”. Khumalo and his girlfriend had been together for three years. “I can’t share her name now as some family members have not been told about her death,” he said.
Several tenants who survived the fire were seen sitting on the pavement on Von Wielligh Street. Sgcino Mpanza, 33, who had been staying in the building for six years, said people were caught by surprise, as the fire started while they were sleeping.
Mpanza said: “Emergency services responded an hour later. A number of people could have been saved if they came here on time. We have lost everything … We don’t have food or clothes. We don’t know what happened to our relatives.”
He added that people were seen jumping from the upper floors in a bid to escape the flames. “The fire brigade found us extinguishing fire with water buckets,” he said.
Sindisiwe Sibeko, 38, said she had been staying at the flat for 23 years. “When I woke up at 00:05, the building was already on fire. It was chaos as there was smoke everywhere. People were screaming and children were crying for their mothers. We have lost our family members. We don’t know where they are. We don’t know what will happen to us,” she said.
At least 73 people have died in a devastating blaze that broke out inside a five-storey building in central Johannesburg.
Ntombizodwa Ncube, 20, who lived in a shack on the ground floor of the building for about a year, said it appeared that her neighbour forgot to blow out his candle when he went to sleep, which resulted in the deadly fire.
Ncube said the fire quickly spread to her shack and people started screaming for help as it leapt from one shack to the other. “I woke up my boyfriend, but the last time I saw him he was standing in front of our shack. I don’t know what happened to him. I haven’t seen him and I don’t know if he is one of the people who have died,” she said.