Paris hotel fire kills 16

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The Independent Online

At least 16 people died, including six children, as fire today swept through a central Paris hotel providing temporary housing for African families.

At least 16 people died, including six children, as fire today swept through a central Paris hotel providing temporary housing for African families.

Some people jumped from windows of the six-storey building to escape the flames and more than 50 residents were injured.

The fire was thought to have started in the early hours in a first-floor breakfast room of the one-star Paris Opera hotel in the capital's 9th district.

Paris City Hall had rented 26 of the six-story hotel's rooms to temporarily house families from Africa, said a fire services spokesman, Laurent Vibert. Many guests would have been sleeping and the rapid spread of the fire caused panic, he said.

"One can imagine young children, parents without their clothes, in the middle of the night, fast asleep, smoke, cries, tears," he said.

At least one person sought refuge on the burning roof, screaming and waving frantically for rescue as flames poured from windows and fire officers scrambled up ladders. Two others yelled for help from the window of a burning room. A fire officer cradled an infant in his arms as he carried him to safety, amid jets of water from fire hoses that doused the flames.

The injured came from France, the United States, Portugal, Senegal, Tunisia, Ukraine and Ivory Coast, Paris police said. Vibert said a Canadian also was lightly injured. The nationalities of the dead were not given.

Fire officials said some people jumped out of windows to escape flames and choking smoke.

Chakib San, who lives in an adjacent building, said he was awakened by cries. He saw three people jump, including a woman and a child who lay motionless after hitting the ground.

The injured were treated and dead bodies temporarily stored in the Galeries Lafayette, one of Paris' busiest and most famous department stores.

President Jacques Chirac said it was one of Paris' "most painful catastrophes."

The fire took more than an hour to bring under control and still smoldered hours later. Some 250 firefighters and 50 fire engines responded.

Nearly all of the six floors were blackened inside.

The dead were recovered "from the road, from inside, just about everywhere," said Vibert, the fire services spokesman. Another spokesman, Christophe Varennes, said the building's fire safety measures had been checked as recently as a month ago.

The bodies of four people of African origin were found in the first-floor breakfast room where the fire is thought to have started, said Vibert. It spread very quickly, he added.

"We heard a lot of screams," said Stanislas Bricage, a Frenchman evacuated from an adjacent hotel - along with about 20 Americans from Wisconsin, wrapped in golden survival blankets but did not appear injured.

San, the neighbor, said he spoke to Australians, Canadians and Tunisians who escaped from the hotel. A woman who works in a nearby hotel brought out a ladder and together they used it to rescue a girl from the first floor, said San.

"We got out a little girl. The fire services arrived just afterward," he said.