Qatar: Deadly Blaze in Shopping Mall

On May 28, 2012, a fire broke out at Doha's Villaggio Mall, leaving 19 dead, 13 of whom were children. Another 17 were injured.

The children were trapped in a nursery within the mall, and they and four teachers died of smoke inhalation. Two firefighters died as they attempted to rescue them.

Those who died came from various countries including France, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa and Spain.

What happened?

Qatar's Ministry of Interior reported:

@MOI_QatarEn: The Minister said that the Rescue Police reached the spot within a minute of information and Civil Defence team reached after two minutes.

@MOI_QatarEn: But lack of floor plans, thick smoke and heat and malfunctioning sprinkler systems hindered rescue efforts at the Villaggio.

@MOI_QatarEn: It was alerted lately only that children were trapped inside and finally Firefighters had to go in through the ceiling.

Smoke coming from Villaggio Mall. Image posted by @LivinginDoha.

Doha resident Kirsty Rice offered more details on her blog:

Today may well be remembered as one of Doha's darkest. For those who have announced to friends and family that Doha is a wonderfully safe place to raise our children, today will perhaps be remembered as the day that innocence was lost. As a community, we are, as my friend Erika said this evening “numb with grief”. […] Thirteen children were trapped inside the nursery, it is believed their exit, a staircase, had collapsed from the heat of a fire. Where exactly the fire began is yet to be confirmed. The nursery was in the interior of the mall, meaning you walked through a virtual rabbit warren of corridors to get there. From what I understand, when the firefighters arrived at those corridors they were considered impenetrable and too dangerous to enter, it was decided the only other way to get there, was through the ceiling. By the time the hole was cut, it was too late, they were gone. Thirteen beautiful children, four teachers and two firefighters. Smoke inhalation meant that their little bodies were carried lifeless from the building.

In this video journalism student Usama Alony (usamaah2290) interviewed witnesses and filmed rescue efforts (he notes that some viewers might find it upsetting):

What about safety requirements?

Witnesses reported that there were neither alarms nor sprinklers in operation at Villaggio Mall.

Nano expressed his surprise:

@fermoreno: It's unbelievable that Villagio has the best luxury shops one could ever imagine, but fire protection systems didn't work #Villagio #Qatar

Raed Al Emadi tweeted angrily:

@Ra_ed: I am a Qatari and selfish business that does not take into account the safety of consumers does not represent me! #Qatar #villagio

The following video by TheVanishforever features an interview with a restaurant employee, in which she says that in the four years she had worked in Villaggio she couldn't recall any fire drill or training:

Where were the local media?

Doha residents were furious that local media seemed to be ignoring the fire, and were not providing updates.

South African Bilal Randeree criticized the absence of coverage on local radio:

@halalcomedy: Stuck in traffic cos of the #Villagio fire and forced to listen to #QBSradio talk cheating husbands kissing mistresses! #occupyqbs

From Libya, Hamid asked about the Qatari network Al Jazeera:

@2011feb17: Oh dear, with the thousands of reporters Aljazeera have around the world they forgot to appoint one in Doha? #VillaggioFire news blackout!

Al Jazeera English online producer Ben Piven gave credit, like many others, to the blog Doha News for its coverage:

@benpiven: @dohanews only source with real info on #VillaggioFire. Huge lack of local media coverage after public safety failure in massive mall blaze.

Qatar newspaper The Peninsula acknowledged the role of citizen media played in reporting the fire in an article entitled “New media trumps the traditional”.

Mourning the dead as #OneCommunityDoha‬

There are plans for a public gathering at Aspire Park in Doha on May 29 to support the families who lost loved ones in the Villaggio fire. While those who died were all foreign residents of Qatar, Qataris have been quick to offer their support.

Twitter user Qataria78 tweeted:

@Qataria78: Good morning, a day has passed but ur always on our minds, Mothers we feel the pain ur going through :( ‪#villaggio‬ #‪#VillaggioFire

Abdulla Ali Almannai asked:

@abdullaalmannai: If u know how to reach the families who lost loved ones please share//qatari people want to go to these families ‫#حريق_فلاجيو‬ ‪#VillagioFire‬

And Fatima Al Kuwari tweeted:

@fkuwari: Every soul on this land is one of us, Qatari or non Qatari, we are all one society. RIP ‪#VillagioFire‬ victims

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