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Fifty-six people killed in Hanoi apartment fire

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HANOI: Fifty-six people died in a fire at an apartment block in Vietnam's capital Hanoi, police said Wednesday, with witnesses reporting screams from inside and a small boy thrown from the building.

Vietnam's deadliest fire in 20 years started just before midnight on Tuesday in the parking floor of the 10-storey building, an area packed with motorbikes, witnesses said.

"56 people have been killed and 37 people injured," Hanoi police department said in a statement.

At least three children were among the dead, state media reported.

The owner of the apartment block has been arrested on suspicion of violating fire prevention regulations, Hanoi police said.

A woman who lives near the block, who gave her name only as Hoa, said: "I heard a lot of shouts for help. We could not help them much."

"The apartment is so closed with no escape route, impossible for the victims to get out," she said.

The blaze was out by Wednesday morning but rescuers still struggled for hours to get into the building, which is down a narrow alley in a residential area of southwest Hanoi.

The complex's small balconies were surrounded by iron bars, with the apartment block having only a single exit and no emergency ladder on the outside.

Pictures showed a line of charred motorbikes on the ground floor, where the fire began.

Neighbours reported several people jumping from the block.

"There was a middle-aged woman jumping down onto my terrace here. She hit her arm and broke it. Another person also jumped down here and broke their legs," said Dao To Nga.

Some were able to flee the building using her roof. "This rooftop of my family helped 14-15 people escape," she said.

Hundreds of people gathered later outside a Hanoi morgue, waiting to hear if their family members and friends were among the victims.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, who visited the site Wednesday as well as survivors in hospital, ordered an investigation into the fire.

Vietnam has experienced several deadly fires in recent years, often at entertainment venues.

A year ago, a restaurant blaze near commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City killed 32 people and injured 17. The owner was later arrested on charges related to breaching fire prevention regulations. — AFP

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