Video: Doha Qatar mall horror fire claims lives of triplets (2)
TWO-YEAR-OLD triplets Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes were among at least 19 foreign nationals, including 13 children, killed in a fire that ripped through an upscale shopping mall in Qatar.
The children were from New Zealand, Spain, Japan, the Philippines, and Benin, among other countries. A Spanish diplomatic source in Madrid told Reuters that four of the dead children were Spanish.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which media reports said broke out at a childcare area at the Villagio Mall in Doha's west, the country’s interior ministry said.
The New Zealand-born triplets were the only children of ex pats Jane and Martin Weekes.
The grandfather of the triplets, Ron Turner, told Newstalk ZB he and his wife would be travelling to Doha immediately to be with their daughter and son-in-law.
They had been contacted by Ms Weekes just after the babies had been found and were told they had died of smoke inhalation.
"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.
"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 three mornings a week for the past couple of months, Mr Turner told the New Zealand Herald.
"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.''
The triplets' bodies would be brought back to New Zealand, he said.
Just last week Ms Weekes wrote on babycenter.com of potty training the trio.
"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.''
Qatar's interior ministry only confirmed that the fire had started somewhere between Gates 3 and 4 in the mall and that an investigation was under way.
"There don't seem to have been any fire alarms or sprinklers at the mall," a relative of a two-year-old child who died in the fire told Reuters, speaking by phone from Qatar's Hamad hospital.
A ministry official said that all buildings in Qatar abide by safety regulations "with no exceptions" and that an investigative committee would be formed to look into safety requirements issues.
Smoke was seen billowing from the mall, which was evacuated. Ambulances and police vehicles blocked entry into the shopping complex.
"We tried to get to the children's area but the extremely high heat stood in our way," Brigadier Hamad al-Duhaimi of the Qatari civil defence told reporters.
A ministry official told journalists that none of the dead were Qataris. Four of the dead adults were teachers and the other two were civil defence personnel, the official said. Seventeen people were wounded, including four children, the official said.
"The family are obviously dealing with terrible grief," New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told reporters.
"Obviously there are very serious questions that will need to be answered," he said.
Many expatriates live in Qatar, a gas- and oil-rich Gulf Arab state with one of the highest standards of living in the world.
The Villagio Mall, which opened in 2006, is an Italianate-themed shopping complex with a hotel, theme park and canal plied by gondolas.
Expatriate New Zealand journalist Tarek Bazley said he was in the shopping centre with his two children when the fire broke out, but they escaped unharmed.
"The volume of smoke coming out of it, it looked like you had 30 steam trains all pumping their smoke out above it," Mr Bazley told Radio New Zealand.
He said there was a lack of urgency from officials in the mall when alarms went off and complained of a "complete lack of planning, a complete lack of coordination in terms of removing people from this area".
"The first thing I heard of it was a very benign fire alarm, it sounded more like a door bell to be honest," he said.
"After about 15 minutes I asked the attendant on the soft play area, where I was with my children, whether that was something we should be worried about, he said 'no sit tight, it's usually a false alarm'.
"About 10 minutes later someone else, 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'."
(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid, Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai, and Gyles Beckford in Wellington; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Paul Tait)