- Five children aged 3-15 among the dead
- Fire extinguished in impoverished town
- Public prosecutor’s office initiates investigations
- Interior Minister visits crime scene
VAULX-EN-VELIN, France, December 16 (Reuters) – Ten people, including five children aged three to 15, were killed on Friday in a fire that broke out a residential building in an impoverished town near the southeastern French city Lyon devoured.
Another four people were seriously injured in the fire in Vaulx-en-Velin, which started around 3am (0200 GMT) on the ground floor before spreading across the seven-story building, emergency services said.
Footage shared on social media at the time of the fire showed a huge dark cloud looming over the building before it was extinguished after dawn.
Witnesses in nearby buildings said they were woken by screams and felt helpless as they stood at the base of the burning building, the smoke was too thick for them to get inside and try to save residents before firefighters arrived .
“Around 3:30 a.m. I heard screaming so I ran out of my house… I saw the building, number 12, downstairs on my left burning… and people trying to get out,” Furkan Bag said. a neighbor and restaurant owner.
He saw a woman jump out of a window to escape the flames and smoke and fall to her death.
“The fire just kept getting bigger…it was at the entrance of the building, they (rescue) couldn’t get in.”
Lyon prosecutors launched an investigation to determine how the fire started and said they could not rule out a hypothesis including arson.
Angry neighbors told reporters they felt abandoned by authorities, while local media reported that the fire-hit building was in poor condition and the ground floor was occupied by drug dealers.
A third of Vaulx-en-Velin’s population lives below the poverty line in one of France’s many high-rise areas, hastily developed in the second half of the 20th century to alleviate housing shortages and accommodate waves of immigration.
“Everyone knows where the drug dealerships are. Why do they wait until there are deaths before acting?” Nordine Gasmi, councilor of the opposition party at Vaulx-en-Velin town hall, told reporters.
“It had to happen,” he said. “The people here are going through hell.”
Social Democrat Mayor Helene Geoffroy said now is the time to mourn and the roots of the problem will be discussed later. Some buildings in the area have been renovated and more work is planned for others, she said.
Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin, who visited the site of the fire on Friday, confirmed that drug trafficking and squatting by drug dealers was taking place at several locations along this road, including inside the building affected by the fire. Police arrested drug dealers in that building overnight, he said.
“There have been reports of drug trafficking, but it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the cause of the fire,” Darmanin said.
Reporting by Sarah Meyssonnier, Yiming Woo in Vaulx-en-Velin, Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Additional reporting by Alain Acco; writing by Ingrid Melander and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Edited by Barbara Lewis and Mark Heinrich
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