Triplets perish in Doha mall blaze: New Zealand youngsters aged three among the 13 children and six adults killed “after sprinkler systems malfunction”
Four Spanish children also dead: Three brothers aged two to seven, and a seven-year-old girl
Horror as toddlers are left trapped in first floor nursery after staircase collapsesFirefighters forced to break through roof to evacuate victimsFour teachers and two civil defense officials also perishedRelative of one two-year-old victim said building did not appear to have fire alarms or sprinklers
Three two-year-old triplets from New Zealand were among the victims who perished after a fire broke out in an upmarket shopping mall in the Qatari capital Doha yesterday.
Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes died after they became trapped when a staircase leading up to the Villaggio mall”s first floor nursery collapsed.
Firefighters smashed their way through the roof of the building to try to rescue those inside, but they were too late to save the trio who reportedly died of smoke inhalation. A further ten children and six adults also died.
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Tragic: Triplets (from left to right) Lillie, Jackson, and Willsher Weekes, aged 2, who died in the shopping mall blaze
Tragedy: The Weekes triplets – Lillie, Jackson and Willsher – with parents Martin and Jane. The three children died in the shopping centre blaze
Four of the children killed were Spanish citizens living in the small Arab emirate, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said. Three brothers between the ages of two and seven, whose father has been named as senior construction worker Camilo Travesedo from Madrid, died in the blaze.
A seven-year-old Spanish girl, named so far only as Isabel originally from Campo de Criptana in the Ciudad Real area, also died. Her parents, according to Europa Press, moved to Qatar for “work reasons” some years ago.
A three-year-old French child was also among the victims, the deputy minister for overseas French citizens Yamina Benguigui said. Children from Japan, South Africa and the Philippines also died, it has been reported, along with three Filipino teachers and one teacher from South Africa.
The triplets” father, Martin Weekes, is listed on his LinkedIn networking site as a senior adviser at Qatar government agency Media Services and a former chief executive of Auckland”s Eden Park sports stadium from 1996 to 2000.
The children”s grandmother, Jo Turner, told Fairfax Media: “Our daughter rang. What can you say It”s absolutely devastating.
“They were everything to her. She was a great mum. She was a hands-on mum.” Mrs Turner said her daughter, Jane Weekes, had lived in Qatar for about five years, although she had returned to New Zealand to give birth to the triplets.
Panic: A firemen carries an injured girl from the roof of the mall. At least 13 children and six adults have been killed after a fire broke out in an upmarket shopping mall in the Qatari capital Doha
Injured: A policeman involved in the rescue efforts receives treatment at the scene (left) and a man carries an injured boy on the roof of the Mall. A relative of a two-year-old boy who died in the blaze said there did not seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers inside the building (right)
Tragedy: Paramedics tend to an injured man on the roof of the Doha shopping mall. A Qatari government spokesman has confirmed that 13 children were among the dead
Rescue: State minister for the interior Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani told reporters firefighters had to break through the roof to get to trapped children after a staircase to the first-floor nursery collapsed
Shopping: Retailers based in the mall include many well-known Western brands, such as Foot Locker, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Marks & Spencer
Ron Turner, her husband, told Newstalk ZB he and his wife would be travelling to Doha tonight to be with their daughter and son-in-law.
He said he had spoken to his daughter Jane, saying: “She was still just as numb I suppose, and just as empty as my wife and I feel right now and the rest of our family and friends who have rallied around to give us support.
HEARTBREAKING ONLINE POSTS OF LIFE AS A MOTHER OF TRIPLETS
It was only last week that Janet Weekes, the mother of the triplets, was writing online about potty training the trio.
Posting on babycenter.com , she said: “We have about 7 potties around our living space (it”s a really big open plan area and is tiled so we have no issues with accidents ) and in the bathroom to be able to sit one on the toilet with a kiddy seat and 1 or 2 on the pottys if it turned into rush.”
She said she was not yet confident enough to let the three go without nappies, particularly at night, which was “miles off her radar”.
She also wrote of her love for co-ordinating the three children”s clothes, despite them not all being the same gender.
“Like jeans and different coloured polo or tee shirts, or different styles (Only 1 in a dress!) but same colour.
“Before they were born I too said I wouldn”t but yup it”s too cute to resist!””
The three had also discovered Barney, which Ms Weekes described as the “great purple god”.
“You go from happy and full life and family to a situation that I can”t see how I will ever be happy again.” He said the triplets had been going to the daycare centre for three mornings a week.
He added: “That gave them an opportunity to meet more children and be involved in a different environment than home and mum and dad and nannies, and they were so proud to show off their school bags.” Another 17 people were injured, including four children.
Most of those hurt were rescuers responding to the blaze. A brother of one of the dead Filipino teachers was among the injured but has now recovered.
The fire broke out at the Villagio Mall in Doha”s west end a short time before midday. Smoke was seen billowing from the building as ambulances and police vehicles blocked entry to the complex. It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze.
Former New Zealand journalist Tarek Bazley was in the mall when the blaze broke out. He said he an alarm, which sounded like a repeating doorbell, but he was told by an attendant that “it”s usually a false alarm”.
Then, he said, chaos broke out. “About 10 minutes later a member of the public raced through this area and said, “Everybody out, you”ve got to get out now, the other half of the mall is on fire”.”
The daycare area was a casual drop-in centre and Bazley added: “I believe the problem was that once the fire took in the area near the nursery, there was no way to actually escape.”
Both exits were blocked by smoke, he said. The alarm and sprinkler system appeared to have malfunctioned.
He said: “It”s an extraordinary mall in the sense that as you walk down it it has this ceiling that is like a mock sky, so I think in order to achieve that effect, they”ve actually not put in sprinklers in this area.”
At least some of the victims died as rescuers struggled to reach the child care centre, according to Qatar”s Minister of State for Interior Affairs, Sheik Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani.
“We tried our best, but when we got there, the children were trapped inside. We are very sorry for what happened. We tried as much as we could to save these people,” Sheik Abdullah told reporters in Doha.
Al Jazeera”s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from the scene, said: “The Gympanzee nursery, where most of the children were, is on the first floor with difficult access.”
Speaking from Qatar”s Hamad hospital, the relative of a two-year-old boy who died in the blaze said: “There don”t seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall.”
Thick smoke and heat hindered rescue efforts, as did a lack of floor plans and malfunctioning sprinkler systems, the Qatar”s Interior Ministry admitted on Twitter.
Smoke: Witnesses say thick black smoke could be seen pouring from the mall around midday
Interior: A man races through smoke inside the mall building. A news conference is planned for later this evening
Casualty: An injured person is wheeled away on a stretcher
Fight: Firemen extend water hoses into the mall to as colleagues wearing breathing apparatus enter the building
Survivor: A man is given oxygen treatment as he is carried into an ambulance. The young victims included six boys and seven girls. Three were from the same family
The complex has an Italianate-theme complete with a canal and Venice-style gondolas as well as a hotel and an ice skating rink
Sheik Abdullah said all buildings in the country abide by safety requirements, but a special committee will nonetheless be set up to monitor building safety standards.
“We tried to get to the children area but the extremely high heat stood in our way,” Brigadier Hamad al-Duhaimi of the Qatari civil defence told reporters.
Witnesses say thick black smoke could be seen pouring from the ritzy Villaggio mall around midday. The Interior Ministry later said the fire was extinguished.
The Villaggio opened in 2006 and is one of Qatar”s most popular shopping and amusement destinations. It has an Italianate-theme complete with a canal and Venice-style gondolas as well as a hotel and an ice skating rink.
Retailers include many well-known Western brands, such as Foot Locker, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and British department store Marks & Spencer, according to the mall”s website.
Malls throughout the oil-rich Arab Gulf are popular with families looking for entertainment destinations that provide relief from soaring summer temperatures.
New construction projects such as the Villaggio have transformed the face of once-sleepy Doha in recent years, as the country benefits from a hydrocarbon boom. The OPEC member state is the world”s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Qatar won the right to host soccer”s 2022 World Cup a year-and-a-half ago. Sheik Abdullah said all buildings in the country abide by safety requirements, but a special committee will nonetheless now be set up to monitor building safety standards.
VIDEO: Heartbreaking moment that Jane and Martin Weekes mourn for their triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher…