- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam A massive blaze tore through a large building in downtown Ho Chi Minh City yesterday, killing at least 54 persons. State-controlled newspapers said the toll could rise to more than 100.
Officials and news reports said more than 100 were injured.
The building houses offices of foreign companies, shops and a popular disco in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
A wedding reception with about 500 guests was being held in the six-story building when the fire broke out.
At least one unidentified foreign man was among those killed, and six staff members of an American insurance company were missing, officials said.
Dozens more people were believed to be trapped, firefighters said.
Firefighters only managed to enter the building in early evening, four hours after the blaze started, because of the intense heat and lingering flames.
At least one person could be seen at a window trying to summon rescuers, but firefighters said they did not have the necessary equipment to reach him. Flames raged at other windows.
"Fighting the fire was very difficult. Many people were trapped inside," said fire Chief Le Tan Buu.
The International Trading Center has several floors of shops and about 50 offices. The American International Assurance Co. was conducting a training program in the building for 100 insurance agents when the fire began, said a company official who identified herself only as Tien.
Six staff members were missing and about 30 were injured, some seriously, she said. She did not specify their nationalities.
"A bell rang, and then the electricity cut off," she said. "The fire came very fast."
The cause of the fire in the city's downtown area was not immediately known, but police suspect it started in the Blue Disco, the city's popular dance spot. The disco has been attacked in the state-controlled press for reportedly condoning "social evils," such as drug use.
State-run Vietnam Television said at least 54 persons were dead and called it the city's deadliest fire. Hospital officials said more than 100 were hospitalized, many with serious injuries.
But the Lao Dong newspaper quoted firefighter Nguyen Van Quy as saying: "We have counted about 100 bodies at various floors of the trading center, including one of a foreigner."

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