Three New Zealand triplets were among 13 children who died when a fire tore through a shopping centre in Doha,claiming a total of 19 lives,Prime Minister John Key said.
Key said the triplets,believed to be three-year-olds,were in a nursery in the Villagio mall in the Qatari capital when the blaze erupted. He said their parents were New Zealanders who had been working in the country for some time.
“It’s a great tragedy,” Key told reporters. “Their family are obviously dealing with the terrible grief that they have at this time. Obviously it’s a very tragic day for that family.”
Key said the children’s grandparents were flying to Qatar to support the family and New Zealand consular officials were also offering assistance.
Radio New Zealand named the triplets as Lillie,Jackson and Willsher Weekes.
Expatriate New Zealand journalist Tarek Bazley said he was in the shopping centre with his two children when the fire broke out,but they escaped unharmed.
“The volume of smoke coming out of it,it looked like you had 30 steam trains all pumping their smoke out above it,” Bazley told Radio New Zealand.
He said there was a lack of urgency from officials in the mall when alarms went off and complained of a “complete lack of planning,a complete lack of coordination in terms of removing people from this area”.
“The first thing I heard of it was a very benign fire alarm,it sounded more like a door bell to be honest,” he said.
“After about 15 minutes I asked the attendant on the soft play area,where I was with my children,whether that was something we should be worried about,he said ‘no sit tight,it’s usually a false alarm’.
“About 10 minutes later someone else,a member of the public raced through this area and said ‘everybody out,you’ve got to get out now,the other half of the mall is on fire’.”
Qatari officials said the fire started in the nursery and firefighters had to break through the roof to get to trapped children after a staircase to the first-floor facility collapsed.