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Doha mall fire hearing told of chaotic scenes

Published: 8:24AM Thursday January 24, 2013 Source: Fairfax

The husband of a childcare worker who died in the Doha Mall fire said he told police children were trapped inside the burning building, but the officers kept saying: "No problem".

Louie Aban, 32, whose wife Maribel Orosco, 29, was an accountant at the Gympanzee daycare centre in the Villaggio Mall, told a lower criminal court hearing overnight that Orosco called him three times during the fire.

Two-year-old New Zealand triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes, who were at Gympanzee, were among 19 people - 13 of them children - who died in the mall fire in May last year.

Aban said that when he got the first call from his wife at 11.05am, he heard a lot of noise in the background.

Orosco told him there was a fire in the mall and to come immediately to help them, Doha News reported.

Aban said he told his wife to wet some clothes, place them over the mouths of the children and run down the stairs, but Orosco said the smoke in the hallway was too thick.

While in his car on the way to Villaggio, Aban received two more calls from his wife.

"Drive fast, come fast!" Orosco told him, as he heard sounds of crying in the background.

When asked why she was telling him to come, Aban responded: "[Because] no one will help them."

The last call was to say goodbye.

"She told me she had to 'let go'," Aban said, adding that her breathing sounded laboured.

"I told her, 'don't'."

When Aban arrived at Villaggio, police barred him from going into the mall.

He said he told officers that his wife and several children were trapped inside, "but they kept saying 'no problem'.''

Nearly two hours later, unable to locate the Gympanzee centre, firefighters suited-up Aban so that he could show them the way.

But by that time, the air was too hot and the smoke too thick to make it inside the nursery.

Instead, officers began taking the victims out through the roof, and Aban later found his wife at a mortuary.

Qatar's fire chief said a malfunction caused a fluorescent lightbulb in a Nike shop to burst.

Pieces of the bulb fell on to boxes of rubber-soled shoes and sporting equipment, igniting them and the shop.

The fire then spread, Doha News reported.

The type of light bulb used was not safe, but was widely used in Qatar.

Such bulbs had been a common cause of fires in the country.

A forensic doctor said autopsies found the deaths were caused by suffocation from smoke.

A former Gympanzee employee said the centre had an emergency exit, but that led down stairs and back into the mall, where the fire raged.

The nursery had no windows or ventilation.

Other witnesses said a lack of ventilation contributed to the accumulation of smoke in the centre.

More witnesses are expected to appear before the hearing on January 30.

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