'We thought we would die': Vietnam fire survivors recount terror

Injured victims lying in a ward at the An Phu General hospital in Ho Chi Minh City on Sept 7, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

THUAN AN, Vietnam - Survivors of a karaoke bar blaze in Vietnam spoke on Thursday of their terror as they tried to escape an inferno which killed over 30 people and has raised questions over fire safety standards in the South-east Asian nation.

The fire in a dense residential neighbourhood of Thuan An city, north of commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City, spread rapidly through the three-storey building, engulfing the second floor and trapping customers and staff as dense smoke filled the staircase.

Thirty two people were killed and 17 were injured, police said, with many suffering broken bones after the flames forced them to jump from the roof.

Due to the intensity of the flames, firefighters struggled to enter the building and were forced to knock down part of a wall to get inside. Eight people were found dead in the bar's toilet.

Do Thanh Tu, who worked at the An Phu karaoke parlour, told state media that he was convinced he would die in the inferno.

"When the fire broke out, I tried to run down to the first floor, but I saw too much fire there, so I ran to the rooftop to find shelter," he told the VNexpress news site as he lay in hospital in Thuan An.

"I saw people up there, many of them were screaming. We thought we would die. Many people jumped.

"Around half an hour later, rescuers came for us. There was so much smoke I could not breathe."

Sixty people were inside the 30-room bar when the fire erupted on Tuesday evening. Many employees were sleeping on the highest floor at the time, waiting for their next shift, and saw smoke creeping up the stairs.

Ngan, 20, told VNexpress it stung her nose and eyes, trapping her and her colleagues inside the room.

Eventually forced onto the roof, they tried to poke their heads through metal bars and wave their hands, hoping someone would see them.

Safety worries

Firefighters work at the scene of the fire at the An Phu Karaoke bar on Sept 6, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

The initial cause was said to be an electrical short circuit, according to authorities in Binh Duong province.

The bar's fire safety standards had been checked three times - in 2019, 2021 and this year - and had met all the regulation's requirements, authorities added.

But it comes after several deadly fires in recent years, including two at karaoke bars in Hanoi, prompting Vietnam's prime minister to order an investigation as well as an inspection of all high-risk venues.

The burnt-down exteriors of An Phu Karaoke ba. PHOTO: AFP

Police partly blamed drunken singers for the tragedy during a press conference.

"They were drunk. So when the staff at the karaoke bar informed them about the fire... people in some karaoke rooms didn't listen," provincial police chief Trinh Ngoc Quyen said.

"There was one room in which a customer pulled an employee into the room and closed the door."

Outside the hospital's morgue, family members of the victims - some clutching flowers and pictures of their loved ones - queued up to identify their relatives.

A family member holding a portrait of a victim of the An Phu karaoke bar fire outside the morgue at Thuan An General hospital. PHOTO: AFP

Tran Thi Bich Van, 32, lost her husband, brother and brother-in-law in the blaze.

She told AFP that her brother had been visiting them from his home on the southern island of Phu Quoc and all three men had left for the karaoke bar after dinner.

"At around 10.40 pm the police called me, and at that moment I knew they had been in the fire," she said.

"His body is badly disfigured," she said of her husband, through tears. "But his face remains bright." AFP

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