The death toll from a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in Johannesburg, South Africa has risen to 73.
“The latest update is that we have now 73 fatalities and 52 people injured who were transported to various healthcare facilities for further medical care,” said Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi.
Individuals who witnessed the incident claimed that parents threw their babies out into the street, trying to save them, after scrabbling around in vain to find an exit.
Blankets and sheets still hang from the blackened windows, used by the desperate victims to reach safety as flames turned the five-storey building in downtown Johannesburg into a death trap.
“It was so difficult for us to get out,” said Nobuhle Zwane, who said she managed to escape through the smoke with her two children aged 13 and 2.
More than 70 people died and scores were injured after the fire broke out in the early hours, swiftly engulfing a building taken over for illegal housing.
Authorities estimate more than 80 “shacks” had been set up in the building.
Inside, emergency workers found further signs of the horror that confronted residents.
Bodies were discovered piled up at a security gate that had been closed, preventing people from getting out, an official said.
Residents told AFP that each of the five floors had a security gate that was kept locked at night to keep the police and intruders out.
The edifice is located in a deprived, crime-ridden area of what used to be the business district of South Africa’s economic hub.
But city authorities said it had been turned into illegal housing after being abandoned.