Mong Kok inferno kills 4, injures 55

Don’t live above a nightclub.


Mong Kok inferno kills 4, injures 55
Firemen die fighting major apartment blaze
Austin Chiu, Ng Kang-chung and Agnes Lam
SCMP Aug 11, 2008
Two firefighters, an elderly woman and a person believed to be a nightclub employee were killed yesterday morning in one of Hong Kong’s worst commercial and residential building blazes in a decade.

At least 55 people aged five to 77, including three firemen, were injured in the alarm No 5 fire at Cornwall Court, Nathan Road, Mong Kok and were admitted to four hospitals.

A 26-year-old man, at one point critical, was last night in serious condition along with two other men and a woman, while 18 people were in stable or satisfactory condition. The rest were treated and discharged.

The six-hour blaze broke out at about 9.20am and was extinguished at 3.13pm. It began in a nightclub on the first floor of the building, Fire Services Department director Gregory Lo Chun-hung said.

A nightclub employee, who identified herself as Ms Law, told the South China Morning Post she set off an alarm after workers sleeping at the club were awakened by a loud noise shortly before 9.30 am.

“About six or seven of us were sleeping at the nightclub,” she said. “We heard a loud noise and woke up and ran downstairs. We saw lots of smoke and so I broke the fire alarm. But one staff member didn’t leave with us. We still have not heard from that staffer.”

The Fire Services Department said no smoke-prevention door was installed at the nightclub.

The two firemen killed in the blaze were 46-year-old Siu Wing-fong, a 24-year veteran and father of a 12-year-old girl, and Chan Siu-lung, 25, who had joined the department just a year ago. Both were from the Mong Kok fire station.

A 77-year-old woman was found dead on the ninth floor, while another body, as yet unidentified but believed to be female, was found in the nightclub.

Mr Lo said investigators would probe the cause of the fire and the deaths. Rescue operations were hampered by the intense heat, heavy smoke and narrow passages inside the building, he said.

“Our colleagues found the two firefighters [who later died] on the top floor of the building,” Mr Lo said. “When the rescue team found them, they were still dressed in full protective gear, but were already unconscious.”

The two men had entered the building from the ground floor to search for residents.

The division commander for Kowloon Central, Lau Chi-ho, said: “It was very difficult for us to get into the upper part of the building. The intense heat was trapped in the staircase, and the heat could not be released. The temperature was too high and the smoke was very thick.

“When we arrived, the mezzanine was filled with smoke, and the thick smoke … raged through every floor of the building.” The firemen had to use ladders to rescue residents waving for help on the upper floors, as it was so difficult to reach them from inside.

Speaking to reporters at the scene yesterday, Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong offered his condolences to the families of the dead firefighters. “We are deeply sorry about the deaths of the two very brave firemen,” he said. “I, together with the chief executive and the chief secretary, send our deepest condolences to the families, and we will do everything possible to help them to get over this very difficult period.”

Acting Chief Executive Henry Tang Ying-yen, Director of Home Affairs Pamela Tan Kam Mi-wah and Mr Lee visited victims in hospital.

“We admire the two firemen’s bravery and their professionalism in their work. We visited families of the two firemen and the elderly woman. They are deeply saddened and heart-broken. I am in deep sorrow, too,” Mr Tang said.