32 die in Vietnam karaoke bar fire

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The death toll from a fire that tore through a karaoke bar in southern Vietnam has risen to 32, state media said on Wednesday.

The blaze engulfed the second floor of the building on Tuesday night, trapping customers and staff as dense smoke filled the staircase and blocked the emergency exit, reports said.

Many crowded onto a balcony to escape the flames, which grew quickly as they caught the wooden interior, while others were forced to jump from the building, state media added.

Photos showed plumes of smoke billowing out of the bar — located in a crowded residential neighbourhood in Thuan An city, north of commer-cial hub Ho Chi Minh City — as firefighters on cranes tried to extinguish the blaze.

Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the Public Security Ministry, said the death toll from the karaoke fire had risen to 32, with 17 men and 15 women killed.

Mai Hung Dung, a top official with the ruling Communist Party in Binh Duong province where the bar is located, earlier put the death toll at 23, with 11 injured. He said officials were still searching for more victims. State media reported that eight people were found dead in the toilet. The initial cause of the fire was said to be an electrical short circuit, according to a report by Binh Duong authorities cited by state media.

Witness Nguyen Sang, who lives near the kara-oke bar, told the VnExpress news site that when fire trucks arrived at the scene a receptionist said there were 40 people stuck inside.

“Many people ran outside through the main en-trance, but many others could not stand the heat and they jumped down, breaking their hands and legs,” Sang said.

Rescue workers searched through the night for anyone trapped in the 30-room bar, according to state media. The karaoke facility’s fire prevention regula-tions had been checked prior to the blaze, police told state media.

In 2016 a fire at another karaoke lounge in Hanoi left 13 people dead.

This fire has shocked Vietnam, not only because it is the deadliest of its kind – 32 people lost their lives and more than 40 are badly injured – but be-cause fires are so common in the country’s karaoke bars.

Since 2014, there have been at least six such in-cidents, resulting in the deaths of 58 people.

An investigation by Vietnamese MPs in 2019 highlighted serious issues with the work of the Fire and Rescue Department and local authorities, but their recommendations seem to have been lost in a maze of red tape.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, himself a former deputy chief of the ministry in charge of firefighting brigades, has now ordered a thorough inspection of all health and safety and fire regulations across the country.

But the public want to know the root cause of the problem. Is it a lack of oversight in fire prevention measures, often caused by corruption in licensing for entertainment venues, or just bad luck?—AFP

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