Villaggio fire: The day after (live blog)

Nineteen people, including 13 children, were killed in a fire that broke out at Villaggio Mall Monday morning, according to officials (yesterday’s live blog here). Details about the cause of the blaze are still unknown, but as Qatar struggles to pick up the pieces, we’ll provide the latest information we have here.

UPDATE | 12:15pm

That’s it for our live coverage of the day after the Villaggio fire. Thank you to all who contributed to the coverage, and thanks too to those stuck with us and offered up words of support and encouragement.

For more on the vigils and prayer services held today, check our roundup, or have a look at some of our pictures from today.

UPDATE | 11:45pm

A blurry photo making the rounds on Twitter is fueling rumors that Landmark mall is on fire.

Doha News spoke to a customer service representative at Carrefour who assured us that it is not. 

UPDATE | 10:14pm

In what’s at least the third fire of the day, we’re being told firefighters are trying to quell a blaze in the Mansoura area, near Al Muntaza road and Al Meera shopping complex there.

Here’s @MaveriCkQA‘s photos:

If you’re there, or know any more about, please let us know.

UPDATE | 9:38pm

Seventeen people were being treated for smoke inhalation at Hamad Hospital after yesterday’s fire, but by the time a press conference was convened in the evening, four people had already been discharged.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo is reporting the remaining 13 people who were still being treated have now been discharged from HMC.

Of the 17 originally hospitalized, 15 were civil defense officers, while the other two were mall security guards.

(h/t @LivingInDoha)

UPDATE | 8:42pm

Villaggio stores are calling meetings with their managers to discuss the fate of their businesses.

During one such meeting, they were told that yesterday’s fire originated in the Nike store. It then spread to Puma, which was directly below the Gympanzee nursery.

Civil Defense is still investigating the cause of the fire, but Villaggio will be closed for at least the next two weeks.

Staff of most shops have been offered paid leave or will be transferred to satellite stores, managers have been told.

UPDATE | 8:21pm

People have started to gather for a vigil on The Pearl-Qatar:

Al Sharq newspaper,  meanwhile, has posted a rough-cut video from the funeral held at the Abu Hamour cemetary earlier today:

UPDATE | 7:10

A memorial service is currently being held at the Catholic Church in Abu Hamour:

Cerwin Depalubos, who’s at the service, says hundreds of people are there, too, to commemorate the fire victims.

UPDATE | 7:05

Over at Villaggio Mall a little earlier, firefighters and cleaning crews were at work inside: 

UPDATE | 6:59pm

Now that the sun has set, the crowd gathered at Aspire Park is thinning. Although the park was far from full, several hundred people did turn out to lay flowers and commemorate the dead.

The New Zealander parents who lost their triplets in the fire joined the vigil in an emotional tribute, although authorities wouldn’t allow us to speak with them:

The mood was obviously very somber. Most gathered around the electronic screen to lay flowers and light candles in remembrance. 

UPDATE| 6:49pm:

A photo of Al-Kuwari speaking to Al Jazeera Mubasher at the vigil.

Journalists from Al Jazeera, including Clayton Swisher, AJE’s Stefanie Dekker, and AJE Online’s Gregg Carlstrom were reporting from the vigil alongside photographers and journalists from the Gulf Times, the Peninsula newspaper and Al Rayyan TV.

UPDATE| 6:35pm:

The #OneCommunityDoha vigil has been going on at Aspire Park for two hours, a spontaneously-organized action thats drew out hundreds. 

Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al-Thani was in attendance to show her support for the those who died, as was Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, Qatar’s Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

Al-Kuwari’s daughter is the owner of Gympanzee nursery inside Villaggio, where the children died. When pressed by Doha News about her, he said she is today “the saddest person on earth.”

“All my grandsons used to go to the school every day. One day before, they were there with their mother,” he said.

The minister added that it was a day of sorrow for everyone – Qataris and expats alike, adding that the fact that a diverse segment of the community attended the vigil should be celebrated. “It proves we like each other, we love each other,” he said.

UPDATE | 4:27pm:

There is a Facebook page for the Pearl vigil, but according to updates, the event might be moved. We’ll keep you posted, but you can also check for updates here.

UPDATE | 4:12pm:

A government-organized funeral prayer, or janazah, is currently being held at the Abu Hamour cemetery for the two rescue workers killed in the Villaggio fire.  

Khaled Rafih, who’s at the service, says it’s very well attended.

UPDATE | 3:20pm:

The grandparents of the two-year-old New Zealand triplets and relatives from Saudi Arabia are flying in to support grieving parents Jane and Martin Weekes, media reports are saying.

Jane Weekes, who regularly uploaded YouTube videos of her children and was voted Best Mum in Doha, said she was “numbed” by the loss.

Meanwhile, local Arab press are calling for accountability for this tragedy. 

Saleh al-Kawari, editor-in-chief of Al-Raya, said in an editorial:

It is negligence that resembles a premeditated murder. This is a real catastrophe.

UPDATE | 2:48pm:

Condolences are pouring in from around the globe for the victims of the fire.

One of the most recent notes is from Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal:

UPDATE | 2:13pm:

Salman Alansari sent us two more photos from the Qatar Aeronautical College fire earlier today:

The Ministry of Interior confirms it was “a very limited fire at an administrative office in Qatar Aeronautics College without casualties.”

UPDATE | 1:45pm:

Camilo Travesedo, the father of three siblings who perished in yesterday’s fire, has told Spanish press that his family is “broken.” 

Mass will be held for his three children and a fourth Spanish child at the church tonight. The Spanish Foreign Minister said today that the country is preparing to bring the bodies home.

UPDATE | 1:29pm:

Following yesterday’s tragedy, UAE malls are convening emergency meetings to discuss the frequency of safety equipment checks, evacuation plans and emergency training for staff members, Emirates 24/7 reports:

Over the past few years, several fires have been reported in malls across the country, with the most widespread being the 2005 Oasis Center blaze, which saw the shopping centre burn down completely…

Fahima Karam, a mother of one also raised her concerns, saying: “Play areas are especially vulnerable in an emergency situation. “If a fire does break out, is the staff really equipped to help?”

UPDATE | 1:22pm:

We’re being told the fire at the Qatar Aeronautics College started in a mechanical room, where a fire occurred last week too:

Hello,

A friend who works at Qatar Aeronautical College just called me to say she was fine. The fire was in a mechanical room that had another fire last week but was supposed to have been repaired. She told me the school was not supposed to reopen until it had been repaired properly – an investigation should be made into the company that performed the repair and if the school was reopened before it was safe to do so.

Regards, 

Kelvin Dickinson

Let us know if you know anything more about it.

UPDATE | 12:54pm:

More details on the second fire today, at the Fatima bent Waleed bin Al Muqeera Primary School for girls, located in Muaither.

We spoke with Maryam Al Maadeed, whose mother is the principal of the school. She said a malfunctioning A/C unit caught on fire around 10am and damaged the administration office before it was put out.

No one was injured, although some girls appeared to have fainted from the commotion.

Needless to say, the fires appear unrelated, save for the fact that they could ultimately be tied together by overtaxed A/Cs.

Residents of Qatar are understandably skittish about fires after yesterday’s tragedy. Given the frequency of fire outbreaks across Doha, it looks like Qatar is going to have to do some major overhauls of either policy or inspections for countless buildings to improve safety standards.

UPDATE | 12:26pm:

There’s been reports of two smaller blazes today – so far – as concerns continue about the country’s fire preparedness.

We’re being told that no one was injured at the Aeronautical College fire, which may have been started by an air conditioner malfunction. It isn’t clear what caused it.

 Here are some photos Omar al-Dafa has been sharing from there:

If you know more about either incident, let us know on [email protected]

UPDATE | 10:50am:

A lot of people who were at the mall when the fire broke yesterday have been telling us they didn’t understand the severity of the situation.

One Doha resident, Paula Rodrigues Duarte, posted on our Facebook page, saying she was visiting Villaggio with her 21-month old child:

The thing that upsets me most is that no one told us to leave 10min into the fire. Not security or police. I was actually walking towards it unknowingly till I saw people running back and turned around and left. No alarms, no sprinklers, nothing. Apparently the staircase to nursery collapsed making it impossible to reach the babies except through the roof but by then it was too late. Tragic and incomprehensible. My heart goes out to the families of the deceased.

UPDATE | 10:25am:

Concerns about the safety of Villaggio in the event of fire have been raised as early as 2009, when photos of padlocked fire exits were posted on Qatar Living:
 

Additionally, fires are constantly reported in Qatar, contributing to residents’ and officials’ lackadaisical attitudes about fire alarms.

In the past few months alone, there have been blazes at the Doha Rugby Club, City Center Mall (whose food court remains closed) and a secondary school in Wakra.

UPDATE | 10:13am:

The Peninsula has some details about Mahmoud Haidar and Hossam Chahboune, the two firefighters who died:

Braving the inferno, Mehmood saved two lives as he rescued the duo to safety.

Soon after handing the duo to paramedics, he returned to the nursery where the fire had become more intense with clouds of thick black smoke billowing.

Mehmood wasn’t lucky this time as having been caught in the cloud of smoke, he suffocated…Houssam, 22, also died saving people who were caught in the blaze.

UPDATE | 10:01am: 

Al Jazeera English posted their video report of the fire earlier this morning, which includes footage from the scene, as well as comments from the Ministry of Interior’s press conference:

UPDATE| 9:47am:

Although Villaggio is closed indefinitely, the roads around it are open, Tweeples are reporting.

Meanwhile, shell-shocked residents are in the process of comforting their friends and hugging their children more tightly than ever before. An excerpt from blogger Kirsty Rice:

When I was choosing child care my criteria was pretty standard. I wanted it to be clean, I wanted good staff, great facilities, fun activities, and most of all I wanted the first little traveler to enjoy it.

These are the things I didn’t check for.

I didn’t ask to see the emergency evacuation procedure. I didn’t ask if the staff were trained in the event of a fire, and I didn’t ever once consider to check the exits or stairwells. I just assumed that of course they were trained, of course they knew what to do! I didn’t once consider that I would find myself racing to that mall pleading to get inside to find my baby girl. For that is the unthinkable, the unimaginable.

UPDATE| 9:17am:

We’re still working on our list of the dead. Here’s who we have so far:

  • Hana Sharabati, 3 years old
  • Mahmoud Haidar, Civil defense
  • Shameega Charles, 28, South Africa
  • Omar Emraan, 18 months old, South Africa
  • Hossam Chahboune, Moroccan firefighter
  • Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes (triplets, 2 years old, New Zealand)
  • Maribel Orosco, teacher, Philippines
  • Margie Yecyec, teacher, Philippines
  • Julie Ann Soco, teacher, Philippines

We also received this note from the mother of one of the deceased teachers last night:

My daughter Shameega Charles, aged 29 was a teacher at Gympanzee and perished in the blaze. My condolences to all the other families who lost loved ones in this tragedy. We pray that God Almighty makes it easy on all of us.

Her 5 year old son misses her dearly and was looking forward to her upcoming visit in August.We have still not been able to tell him of his mother’s passing.

Regards, Maryam Charles

Credit: Photo by Jassim Ahmed

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