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More than 400 people displaced in Malé warehouse fire

443 people were forced out of their homes.



An inferno that blazed through a residential area of the Maldives capital on Friday night displaced more than 400 people, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.

Briefing the press on Saturday morning, NDMA executive director Hisaan Hassan said 443 people left homeless were registered at the relief centre set up at the Kalaafanu school in Malé. Temporary accommodation was arranged for 83 people from 13 families while several people moved in with their extended families, he said.

Humanitarian assistance was provided to locals and foreigners alike, Hisaan stressed, noting that temporary shelter has been arranged at the Galolhu stadium for 59 expatriates. Employers took care of a further 60 migrant workers, he added.

The fire broke out at a warehouse in Henveiru Thilafushi around 7:30pm, engulfed parked motorcycles and spread to other buildings on the narrow road. A 46-year-old woman trapped in a house opposite the warehouse was found dead after the fire was controlled four hours later.

Aishath Shauna, from the Buruni island in Thaa atoll, was buried after noon prayers on Saturday. A Quran teacher with a degree from the Islamic University of Maldives, she is survived by a brother and two boys from a former marriage.

Six homes and four warehouses were affected, according to the military’s fire and rescue service. The cause of the fire and the extent of damages remain unclear. The NDMA is conducting engineering assessments in 43 abandoned homes or apartments.

About 50 people affected by smoke inhalation were treated at the ADK private hospital as of dawn on Saturday. None suffered serious injuries, Hisaan said. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital treated 25 people, one of whom was admitted. The government-run IGMH also set up a medical post at the relief centre and provided prescriptions, he noted.

Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi told reporters that the first fire lorry arrived in six minutes after the incident was reported at 7:26pm. There were 12 vehicles at the scene by 7:48pm but access was impeded by rows of parked motorcycles. Soldiers, police officers and members of the public moved the vehicles away to clear a path. Civilians also worked with policemen and firefighters to set up and carry water hoses and take out gas cylinders from nearby homes.

About 150 soldiers were active at the scene. Several apartments and the Maldives National University’s business school were evacuated. Firefighters rescued five people trapped in a house opposite the warehouse and a soldier collapsed after carrying down an elderly woman and required treatment for smoke inhalation, Mariya said.

Warehouses in the congested capital are authorised to store flammable substances like paint thinner and agricultural fertiliser, Mariya noted. In January, the authorities checked 126 warehouses in Malé, of which 82 were in residential neighbourhoods, and gave instructions on safety measures, she said.

Late on Friday night, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih called an emergency cabinet meeting and decided to swiftly implement “a plan to relocate warehouses which store dangerous and hazardous chemicals away from residential areas,” according to the president’s office.

The previous administration developed an industrial village on reclaimed land in the southwest corner of Malé to relocate warehouses and workshops.

The Henveiru warehouse fire was the worst such accident in recent history. There were three major incidents in 2016, including a fire that destroyed the Hardware store in Malé and damaged three buildings nearby. In March 2015, a massive fire destroyed a Lily Store warehouse and forced several families out of their homes.