Thirteen children were among 19 people killed in a fire in one of Qatar’s most upmarket shopping malls, the interior ministry said.
Some of the victims died as rescuers struggled to reach a child care centre at the Villaggio mall in the capital Doha, according to the minister of state for interior affairs.
Four of the children killed were Spanish citizens living in the small Arab emirate, the Spanish foreign ministry said.
A three-year-old French child was also among the victims, the deputy minister for overseas French citizens, Yamina Benguigui, said in a statement.
Young New Zealand triplets were also believed to have been killed, said the country’s prime minister John Key, although he could not confirm the deaths.
The minister, Sheik Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, said: “We tried our best, but when we got there, the children were trapped inside. We are very sorry for what happened. We tried as much as we could to save these people.”
Four teachers and two civil defence officials were among the dead, the Qatari ministry said on its official Twitter page.
Another 17 people were injured, including four children, according to authorities. Most of those were rescuers responding to the blaze.
Witnesses reported thick black smoke pouring from the mall around midday on Monday. Amateur photos and videos posted online showed firefighters rescuing victims by climbing on the roof.
The interior ministry said the fire was extinguished hours later.
The cause is under investigation. Thick smoke and heat hindered rescue efforts, as did a lack of floor plans and malfunctioning sprinkler systems, the ministry said.
The incident raises questions about building safety in the booming Gulf state. Sheik Abdullah said all buildings in the country abide by safety requirements, but a special committee will be set up to monitor standards.
The Villaggio opened in 2006 and is one of Qatar’s most popular shopping and amusement destinations. Retailers include many well-known Western brands, such as Foot Locker, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Marks & Spencer, according to the mall’s website.
New Zealand media today named the two-year-old triplets as Lillie, Jackson and Willsher Weekes. Their parents, Jane and Martin Weekes, previously lived in Wellington.
The children’s grandmother, Jo Turner, said: “Our daughter rang. What can you say? It’s absolutely devastating.”
Ms Turner said her daughter had lived in Qatar for about five years, although she had returned to New Zealand to give birth to the triplets.
“They were everything to her. She was a great mum. She was a hands-on mum,” Ms Turner said.
“I didn’t push her for any information. She just told us what she needed to tell us. It was just that – ’Our babies, they died in a fire at the day care centre’.”
According to Mr Weekes’ profile on networking site LinkedIn, he is a senior adviser at Qatar Media Services and a former chief executive of Auckland’s Eden Park sports stadium.
Mr Key told reporters earlier: “The family are obviously dealing with the terrible grief that they have at this time. Obviously it’s a very tragic day for that family and my thoughts are with them during this difficult time.”