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Survivors of Johannesburg fire speak of difficulty getting out of building

People waiting outside a building in Johannesburg   -  
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South Africa

At least 74 people, including several children, died when a dilapidated building caught fire in the South Africa city of Johannesburg in the early hours of Thursday morning.

"We have now 74 fatalities and 52 people injured who were transported to various healthcare facilities for further medical care," Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said.

An estimated 200 people were living apparently illegally in the abandoned five-storey building, with one resident saying many of them were foreigners.

Residents spoke of their difficulty in escaping the blaze and those that managed to escape said they were glad to be alive.

"It was so difficult for us to get out, others had blocked the corridors with beds, but I managed to get out with my kids, one who is 13 years and the other almost 3. We did inhale quite a lot of smoke, but at least we managed to get out. What is very sad is others died inside," said resident Nobuhle Zwane.

Bodies were discovered piled up at a security gate that was closed preventing people escaping the blaze, an official said.

"There was a lot of us running, trying to find the fire exit and a lot of people eventually died because of the smoke inhalation," said Kenny Bupe, a survivor caught up in the blaze while visiting a friend.

Investigations are continuing to determine what cause the blaze, but one resident said he thought he heard a blast.

"There is something that exploded in the flat that we stay in on the ground floor. I think it’s gas. People were cooking at night, we had no electricity the whole day and night,” said Mthokozi Xaba.

As search and recovery operations continue, officials said the death toll could still rise. The blaze was the deadliest in the country in recent years and one of the worst worldwide.

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