Inside Johannesburg's burning building: 'It was terrifying'

05 September 2018 - 17:06 By Belinda Pheto
Three firefighters have been confirmed dead in the blaze in the building that houses the Gauteng department of health in the Johannesburg CBD on September 5, 2018.
Three firefighters have been confirmed dead in the blaze in the building that houses the Gauteng department of health in the Johannesburg CBD on September 5, 2018.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

"We just ran. We left everything behind. We ran from the building as a group.”

A terrified Johannesburg government worker has described the fear she and her colleagues encountered when their offices caught alight on Wednesday.

The financial clerk‚ who cannot be named because she was not authorised to talk to the media‚ said employees ran for their lives.

“No one knew what was happening. It was terrifying. It's still very scary. We are afraid for the people who are still stuck inside‚” she said.

The woman described how the situation was worsening‚ with ambulances constantly arriving. She said she understood that the fire broke out in offices which housed the department's legal services‚ including the chief financial officer's office.

"The fire is not going out‚” she said.

Three firefighters have been confirmed dead in the blaze. One of the dead firefighters fell to his death. The blaze broke out on the 23rd floor of the CBD building‚ which houses the Gauteng health and housing departments‚ as well as offices of the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department.

Firefighters and civilians are reportedly trapped on a tiny ledge of the building‚ with some civilians trapped on the roof. Attempts by police to rescue those who are stuck with a helicopter have so far failed.

A health department employee said he had been in his office when he heard an explosion. He then heard people screaming‚ "Fire! Fire!"

"I didn’t know what was happening. I ran out of my office into the passage. People were trying to go down the lifts while others were running down the stairs to try and escape.

"I ran down the stairs as fast I could. When I got outside the building was covered in thick black smoke‚” he said.

The man said he was worried about the safety of his colleagues as no staff counts had been done.

"No one knows who is missing and who is not. It’s total confusion‚” he said.

This is a developing story.


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