Eight dead, 200 injured in Dutch cafe fire on New Year's Eve

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A blaze ripped through a packed New Year's Eve celebration in a three-story party hall, killing at least eight revelers and injuring around 200 others as people trampled each other and leaped from the top floor to flee the mayhem, officials and eyewitnesses said.

A blaze ripped through a packed New Year's Eve celebration in a three-story party hall, killing at least eight revelers and injuring around 200 others as people trampled each other and leaped from the top floor to flee the mayhem, officials and eyewitnesses said.

The fire started shortly after midnight as around 700 people were heralding the new year at a bar complex inside a row of old wooden houses in Volendam, a picturesque fishing village about 20 kilometers (13 miles) northeast of Amsterdam on the inland IJsselmeer sea.

Teen-age partygoers jumped from the windows to flee billowing clouds of smoke that instantly engulfed the Little Heaven cafe on the top floor, reports said.

A Dutch TV correspondent said unconscious victims were pulled out of windows by their hair.

Burn treatment centers in the Netherlands were strained to capacity, as a fleet of ambulances and helicopters ferried some 90 seriously injured victims to hospitals across the eastern Netherlands.

Mayor Frank IJsselmuiden said a dozen critical cases had to be flown in medevac aircraft to hospitals in neighboring Belgium and Germany. Doctors at a trauma center near Amsterdam said scores of people were still being treated for severe burns and smoke inhalation and the death toll could rise as high as 20.

"It was like warfare, people screaming and trampling over each other to get out," said Henk Jong, who ran out of a bar around the corner to help a woman with bloodied hands who was looking for her children.

"The people I saw will be scarred for the rest of their lives," he told The Associated Press. "They were maimed and burned - a woman without an ear and her hair burned off, and a boy without skin on his arms."

The mayor told an afternoon news conference that the fire originated in a set of Christmas decorations covering the ceiling and that the crowed panicked because all but one of the emergency exits were blocked.

"It was a night of terror," he told Dutch television earlier. "I saw disoriented youngsters with fear in their eyes. I watched as one of those youngsters died" while rescue workers tried to resuscitate him.

The mayor said most of the victims were between 16 and 22 years old, but refused to confirm eyewitness accounts that a number of minors were in the establishment. The minimum drinking age for beer in the Netherlands is 16.

Law enforcement authorities said they had begun preliminary investigations to see if a criminal probe would follow.

Eyewitnesses reported hearing explosions and seeing partygoers take live fireworks inside the cafe, which was decked with holiday lights and pine branches.

"I was partying together with my mates, and all of the sudden, boom! In one second, everything vanished. You couldn't see a thing," one reveler told national Radio 1.

Firefighting crews were called in from around the region in response to a 12:30 a.m. (2330 gmt) alarm. The blaze was quickly brought under control and the complex was sealed off for investigators.

The inferno immediately reminded many in the Netherlands of a May 13 fireworks storehouse blast in the eastern Dutch city of Enschede which killed around 20 people and injured 1,000, wiping out an entire residential neighborhood.

Questions were raised about the safety of locating three separate party establishments one on top of the other in the old wooden structures on the quay.

"This shouldn't have happened," said 70-year-old Kees Tol as he walked over charred pieces of fireworks in the melting snow to survey the boarded building.

The mayor said all cafes in the town had recently been inspected for fire code violations but added there was no reason "to suspect this cafe was unsafe."

Comments