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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 12:36 GMT
Blaze victims tell of fight for life
Victim
Many have suffered horrific burns
Young people who survived the horrific New Year's Eve blaze in a Dutch cafe have spoken of scenes of panic and terror as people fought for their lives.

Fire ripped through the building, setting light to Christmas decorations which showered onto the terrified revellers.


Everybody was screaming 'We're going to die!'

Esther Tol, 14
Many were wearing party clothes made of synthetic material, which local officials say caught fire easily, adding to the horrific casualty toll.

"Everybody was screaming 'We're going to die! We're going to die!'," said a 14-year-old survivor Esther Tol.

"Everything was so black with smoke, you couldn't see a thing."

Injured man
Blazing Christmas decorations fell on the revellers
She described how the only exit - a steep, narrow staircase - was jammed with frantic partygoers, pushing each other as they fought to escape.

"I just dived through them and found myself outside. My hand was burnt and my skin was gone," she said.

Esther's hair and face were burnt as she fled.

One survivor being carried away on the stretcher said: "Panic, panic, everywhere panic."


The people I saw will be scarred for the rest of the lives

Henk Jong
"It was like warfare," said another survivor, Henk Jong. "People were screaming and trampling over each other to get out."

"The people I saw will be scarred for the rest of their lives. They were maimed and burned.

"A woman without an ear and her hair burned off, and a boy without skin on his arms."

One mother described her daughter's ordeal in the crush.


I will never, never forget the things I saw

Survivor
"She was knocked to the ground and people piled up on top of her. She was sure she was going to die and had taken her last breath," said the woman.

One boy wept after hearing confirmation that a friend had died.

"I will never, never forget the things I saw," he said.

Outside, firemen sprayed groups of terrified partygoers whose clothes were still smouldering.

Sparklers

One report said the emergency services were so overwhelmed by the number of casualties that local householders had to help, filling their baths and placing victims in the water.

The cause of the tragedy is still under investigation, but some attention is being focused on the use of fireworks or sparklers.

"It was party time. The barkeepers were handing out sparklers and waving them," said Rosanna van Langen, 16, who escaped unhurt.


The shock in Volendam is boundless - it's unimaginable

Local teacher Wim Keizer
"I think one of the sparklers touched the decorations. The whole ceiling went up in flames."

Fears continue that more of the injured youngsters will die.

"I dare not guess," said the town's Mayor Frank Ijsselmuiden, when he was asked to estimate the final death toll.

"I saw disorientated youngsters with fear in their eyes. I watched as one of those youngsters died," he said, calling it a "night of terror".

Emergency vehicle
Officials say 100 ambulances were needed
Doctors say they fear the worst for some patients

"The combination of serious burn wounds and damage to the lungs... is almost always lethal. Ten to 15 people are injured very badly (in that way)," a specialist burns doctor told Dutch television.

Some of the 18,000 residents of the town say future New Year celebrations will always be blighted by memories of the horror.

"The shock in Volendam is boundless. It's unimaginable," said local teacher and councillor Wim Keizer, who knew many of the victims.

"Eighteen thousand people are suffering."

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