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Paris hotel fire kills 20, half of them children
Updated: 2005-04-15 18:31

People jumped from windows or screamed for rescue from flames as a pre-dawn fire Friday roared through a Paris hotel used by City Hall to house needy African families, killing at least 20 people, half of them children, officials said.

More than 50 people were injured, 11 seriously, in the blaze that was thought to have started in a first-floor breakfast room of the one-star Paris Opera hotel, in the capital's touristic 9th district, fire officials said.

Firemen attend a fire in a central Paris hotel in the early hours of Friday April, 15 2005 . A fire roared through a Paris hotel early Friday, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens more, fire officials said. Some people leaped from windows to escape the flames. [AP]
Eight hours later, rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the inside of the scorched building.

Many guests were African. Paris City Hall had rented rooms in the six-story hotel to temporarily house families from Africa. City Hall said that nine people, including five children, were housed there while some 65 others without means, some asylum seekers, were housed by state services.

The fire broke out after 2 a.m. (0000 GMT), when guests would have been sleeping. It spread quickly, causing 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 help 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 slightly 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 of "Fire! Fire!" He said he saw three people jump, including a woman and a child who lay motionless after hitting the ground.

"They were on the ground. They weren't moving," he said.

``Everyone was screaming,'' he added. ``There were bodies in the road.''

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

French 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. More than 250 firefighters and 50 fire engines were at the scene.

Nearly all of the hotel's 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.

``We heard a lot of screams,'' said Stanislas Bricage, a Frenchman evacuated from an adjacent hotel - along with about 20 Americans, 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.

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