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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 15:11 GMT
Dozens killed in Vietnam blaze
The burning office building
More people could be trapped inside
A major fire has engulfed a building housing offices of foreign companies, shops and a disco in Ho Chi Minh City, killing at least 54 people, Vietnamese officials and media say.

At least one unidentified foreign man was among the fatalities, officials said.


I saw lots of people jumping from the windows

Tran Trung Dung, witness
About 50 people were taken to hospital after the fire broke out in the six-storey Saigon International Business Centre in the early afternoon.

Police said more people could still be trapped inside the building.

At least one person could be seen trapped at a window, but firefighters said they did not have the necessary equipment to reach him. Firefighters have been unable to enter the building.

"I heard lots of screaming and shouting from inside the building," said Tran Trung Dung, an employee of Saigon Tourist. "I saw lots of people jumping from the windows.

"It was a bloody scene."

A wedding reception had been under way inside, Ho Chi Minh City television said.

The fire burned for about five hours before being put out at around 1830 (1130 GMT).

The BBC's Clare Arthurs in Vietnam said the building had just one fire escape and that it took firefighters more than three hours to get suitable ladders to the scene.

US giant American International Assurance Company (AIA) is based on the second floor of the building.

Companies from the UK, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand also have offices there.

The building also houses the Blue Disco, a popular nightspot.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Fire is a major problem in Ho Chi Minh City due to overcrowding and poor electrical wiring.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Clare Arthurs
"National fire authorities have been calling for greater public education"
See also:

29 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Sep 02 | Country profiles
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