Firefighters tell of battle to save children from Qatar fire

Firefighters in Qatar told Wednesday how they tried to rescue 13 children trapped by a blaze in a shopping mall nursery but found most already dead, huddled in the arms of two fellow firemen who died in the rescue bid.

All 19 people killed in the inferno at Doha's Villagio mall on Monday were foreigners, including the two fire fighters as well as 13 children and four teachers.

The authorities have ordered that the mall's owner and four of its senior staff be arrested, reports said.

As smoke and flames engulfed the nursery, two of the four teachers sent farewell text messages and made their final calls to family letting them know they would not be coming home.

"I'm dying," one of the three Filipino teachers trapped in the fire told her aunt in a text message before she succumbed, her friend Marilyn Evangelista told the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel.

Another teacher, also from the Philippines, called her husband to tell him that she and the children were "trapped, the smoke is too thick," according to Evangelista, who then broke down in tears.

Abdel Khaleq al-Huwari, one of dozens of firemen who responded to the blaze, told AFP that the rescue teams were not informed of the existence of a nursery in the mall "until half an hour after" they arrived on the scene.

He said that a mall employee eventually told them that there was a nursery on the first floor of the complex.

Huwari was one of the first in the nursery after the fire had died down and said he found his Moroccan colleague, Husam Shahboun, lying dead on the floor "holding two children in his arms."

"The other (Iranian) firefighter was barely alive when we found him," said Huwari. "We tried to save him but he died."

Several other children lay around the firefighters, all dead, said Huwari. "The nursery is difficult to find and it has no emergency exits."

Another firefighter, Amran Mohsen, told AFP that "some of the fire alarms were not working."

Mohsen, who described Shahboun as "a leader to us", said that all of the children in the nursery had died -- "five in the ambulance, three at the hospital and the rest right at the spot."

Attorney General Ali bin Futeis Al-Murri "ordered the arrest of the Villagio mall owner... its manager and its deputy manager," the official QNA news agency reported late on Tuesday.

It said that arrest warrants had also been issued for the mall's deputy director of security and for the owner of the Gympanzee nursery where the children and teachers died.

Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the tragedy amid mounting allegations of negligence, Al-Jazeera reported.

So far, no official statement on the cause of the fire has been released.

The Qatari cabinet offered its "condolences" to King Hamad and top officials as well as to the families of the victims.

Sheikh Tamim also visited the victims' countries' embassies in Doha and offered his condolences, QNA reported.

"He promised during the visit to keep the victims' families updated on the results of the investigation... affirming that the country will not be lenient with and will punish all those who have fallen short" of their responsibilities, the news agency said.

Hundreds of Qatari citizens and expatriate residents joined a candlelit vigil in Aspire park near the partially destroyed Villagio late on Tuesday.

Among them were New Zealanders Jane and Martin Weekes who lost their three triplets to the fire.

Consoled by friends, the grieving parents wept, clutching their children's toys.

"Lillie, Jackson and Willsher came into this world together and were inseparable as siblings, best friends and the joy of our life," the couple said in a statement.

"Tragically they left together after only two short years. A time that was lived to the full everyday with us laughing, playing, waking us at all hours of the night and simply being the sunshine in our world."

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