Families bid farewell to 19 victims of Qatar inferno

Posted at 05/30/2012 8:51 AM | Updated as of 05/30/2012 11:22 AM

DOHA - Relatives and friends bid a moving farewell Tuesday to the victims of an inferno in a Doha shopping mall that killed 19 people, 13 of them children, as authorities promised to release the results of an inquiry soon.

Triplets from New Zealand were among the children who perished in Monday's blaze in the Venice-themed Villaggio centre in Doha, a popular haunt for Qatar's tens of thousands of expatriate residents.

All 19 dead were foreigners, said the interior ministry's head of information, Captain Mubarak al-Bouainain.

More than 2,000 people attended the Doha funerals of three Muslims among the dead -- a South African boy, a South African paediatric nurse and an Iranian firefighter.

Later in the evening, nearly 1,000 people attended a memorial mass in a church south of Doha for four Spanish children among the dead, three of them siblings.

Two neon lights placed above the altar displayed the names of the victims -- Almudena, Alfonso, Camilo and Isabel.

"We are going home but I don't know when," said Camilo Travosedo, father of the three siblings killed, fighting back the tears.

Bereaved New Zealanders Jane and Martin Weekes mourned the "sunshine in our world."

"Lillie, Jackson and Willsher came into this world together and were inseparable as siblings, best friends and the joy of our life," the couple said in a statement.

"Tragically they left together after only two short years. A time that was lived to the full everyday with us laughing, playing, waking us at all hours of the night and simply being the sunshine in our world."

An American girl of Arab origin, a Chinese boy, a Canadian girl and two Egyptian children, one of whom also had French citizenship, also died in the blaze.

Two firefighters, a Moroccan and an Iranian, died, as did three women from the Philippines who worked at the nursery.

Newspapers in the Gulf state posed questions over the licensing of a nursery in the middle of the huge mall where all of the victims reportedly died of smoke inhalation.

Footage posted online showed clouds of black smoke billowing from the complex as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. Other pictures showed rescue workers carrying children on the roof of the mall.

The blaze is thought to have started in or near the Gympanzee nursery.

"The first report of fire at Villaggio was received by the operations centre at 11:02 am (0802 GMT)," QNA state news agency quoted state minister for the interior Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani as saying, adding that police and civil defence were on the scene within minutes.

He said it became clear that 20 children were in the first-floor nursery and "all efforts were concentrated on evacuating those kids," adding that firefighters had to break through the roof to gain access after a staircase collapsed.

Dense smoke inside the mall combined with the fierce temperature from the flames made reaching the trapped children very difficult, a civil defence representative told a news conference.

Expatriate New Zealand journalist Tarek Bazley said he was there with his two children when the fire began, 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.

But he said there was a lack of urgency from officials in the mall when alarms sounded 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 doorbell, to be honest," he said.

Health Minister Khaled al-Qahtani said all of the fatalities were caused by asphyxiation, adding that 17 people were injured, mostly firefighters.

Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani ordered a commission to investigate the tragedy, Doha-based Al-Jazeera television reported.

The interior minister told AFP the results of the inquiry could be announced as early as Wednesday.

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