Qatar probes deadly shopping mall blaze

Story highlights

  • A French child is among the dead
  • New Zealand says triplets may have been among the dead
  • Thirteen of the dead were children, the Interior Ministry says
  • Spain says four of its nationals were among the dead

Qatar's government says it's investigating complaints that sprinklers and alarms weren't working during a fire at an upscale Doha shopping mall that killed 19 people, most of them children in a nursery.

The fatalities at the Villaggio shopping mall included seven girls, six boys, four teachers, and two other adults, the Persian Gulf monarchy's interior ministry said Monday. Rescuers were unable to reach the nursery from the inside and had to break into it from the rooftop, Health Minister Abdullah bin Khalid Al Qahtani told the state news agency QNA.

The government has set up a committee to investigate "the causes and circumstances" of the blaze, QNA announced Monday night. The agency quoted Brig. Gen. Othman al-Duhaimi, the operations chief for Qatar's civil defense agency, as saying alarms went off in some shops, and that some of the pipes that carried water for the sprinklers may have been leaking -- and that those issues would be addressed in the investigation.

Christine Wigton, an American living in Doha, told CNN she heard "a buzzer, not very loud" as she walked into the mall, but heard no loud alarms as smoke built up inside. Elementary school-age children were eating at some of the restaurants and no one was trying to escape, she said.

"When I got a little bit closer, I realized the smoke was just increasing and people were still shopping. And the smoke kept getting heavier and heavier," Wigton said. She said she left when the smoke became "too much."

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"There were no sprinklers, and there was nothing that would tell somebody that something was wrong," she said.

Built in 2006, the mall advertises itself as "the newest and the largest entertainment center in Doha." The Venice-themed complex features gondola rides down an indoor canal, an artificial sky, a 13-screen movie theater, a theme park, skating rink and a bowling alley.

Qatar's interior minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani, said the civil defense office reviews safety standards for commercial buildings before they grant a license.

"The investigation will clarify all the circumstances of the incident and find out the shortcomings and question those who are responsible in order to tackle the matter in the future," he said in remarks carried by QNA.

Along with the children and teachers, two would-be rescuers died in the blaze, Interior Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani said in a statement posted on the ministry's Facebook page. Another 17 people were injured, including four children, but most of them were firefighters, he said.

Several of the dead were from Qatar's expatriate community. Four were Spanish nationals, a spokeswoman for Spain's Foreign Ministry said Monday.

A three-year-old French child died in the blaze, France's foreign affairs ministry said.

And New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said it was "likely" that three of the dead were triplets, estimated at between two and three years of age, from "a New Zealand family."

Key said a consular official based in the Saudi capital Riyadh would soon go to Qatar "to support the family," while the children's grandparents were also heading there as well.

"Obviously, there are some very serious questions that will need to be answered," said Key, who did not identify the children or their parents. "But at the moment, we're really just trying to wrap around all the support we can for a family that will be grieving."

Al Thani said everyone was believed to have been accounted for late Monday.

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