Tragic details after Johannesburg apartment block fire kills 74: What you need to know

Devastating witness accounts have emerged, as it's confirmed at least 12 children have died in the blaze.

A nighttime fire ripped through a rundown apartment block in Johannesburg killing at least 74 people on Thursday. While authorities have been unable to provide a definitive answer on who lived there, it's thought to have been frequented by squatters, the homeless and criminal gangs.

What you need to know:

  • The blaze broke out at about 1am (local time) in the heart of the city's central business district.

  • As many as 200 people may have been living in the building, and emergency crews expect to find more victims. Among the dead are at least 12 children, with the youngest victim a 1-year-old.

  • Devastating images show bodies lined up on a nearby side road, some in body bags, and others covered with silver sheets and blankets.

  • Witnesses heard people screaming 'we're dying in here' and watched as people desperately threw themselves out of windows to escape the inferno.

  • The block is thought to be one of the city's many 'hijacked buildings' — an abandoned or broken-down property taken over by people desperately seeking accommodation.

Bodies of victims are lined up outside the gutted Johannesburg building.
Dozens of bodies are seen lined up outside the gutted Johannesburg building. Source: AAP

🗣️ What they said:

Student Thando le Nkosi Manzini told Reuters: "I saw a guy jumping from the fourth floor and he lost his life on the spot."

Survivor Omar Arafat recounted losing his 21-year-old sister in the fire that he managed to escape.

"I broke the window... and when I fell down, I was like 'I am dead'," he told Reuters

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa: "This is a great tragedy felt by families whose loved ones perished in this terrible manner."

"I do hope that the investigations into the fire will... prevent a repeat of such a tragedy."

"It's a wake-up call for us to begin to address the situation of housing in the inner city."

Lebogang Isaac Maile, the head of the Human Settlements department in the city said some of those who died may have been renting from, or were being extorted by, criminal gangs.

"There are cartels who prey on who are vulnerable people. Because some of these buildings, if not most of them, are actually in the hands of those cartels who collect rental from the people."

"It demonstrates a chronic problem of housing ... as we've previously said that there's at least 1.2 million people who need housing."

Smoke rises from a burning building amid a deadly fire, in Johannesburg, South Africa,. Source:  X/@ODIRILERAM via Reuters
Smoke rises from a burning building amid a deadly fire, in Johannesburg, South Africa,. Source: X/@ODIRILERAM via Reuters

⏭️ So what next?

The cause of the blaze is still under review, but fires are common due to chronic power shortages forcing people to use candles for light and wood fires for heat.

Emergency services will continue working through the building and expect the death toll to increase. Spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said the chance of anyone being found alive is 'very slim'.

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With Reuters and AP

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