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48 killed in Ho Chi Minh City trade centre fire

Hanoi, Oct. 29 (Reuters): A fire believed to have started in a disco swept through a five-storey commercial building in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City today killing at least 48 people, state-run Vietnam Television said.

Flames billowed from windows of the International Trade Center, sending dense black smoke into the sky as workers from offices, shops, a disco and a restaurant fled for their lives, many down steel ladders reaching from firetrucks below.

The toll in Vietnam’s largest city, still popularly known as Saigon, is expected to rise with a number of people believed to have been trapped in the building as the fire raged for about five hours. Firefighters were hampered by a lack of water and equipment and the centre remained too hot even hours later to do a complete search, an official television bulletin said at 11 pm (1600 GMT). The fire was put out at around 6.30 pm.

One foreign businessman whose office building has a view of the centre said: “The flames must have been 9-12 metres. There was a lot of smoke.”

State television said the inferno was the worst in the history of the southern commercial hub. One eyewitness at the scene said: “Firemen were inside the building counting bodies.”

At least 59 people have been taken to hospital. The television report said the fire began in the Blue disco, Ho Chi Minh City’s most popular dance spot, and swiftly spread through the International Trade Center. City mayor Le Thanh Hai said the cause of the fire was unknown.

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