Club blaze turns party into tragedy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, 12:00am

A night of celebration for the 18th birthday of a young Hong Kong man turned tragic Saturday night when he and three of his friends were killed in a fire that swept through a Shenzhen disco.

In all, 43 people died and dozens more were injured in a fire that was sparked by a firework display watched on by hundreds of revellers at the Wuwang (Dance King) nightclub in Shenzhen.

Choi Wai-tat had been planning the celebration for a long time and was looking forward to meeting his friends at the popular nightclub, known for its cheap drinks. The group, aged 17 to 20, arrived at the club at about 9pm. They were expecting to meet other friends at midnight to celebrate Choi's birthday.

That moment never arrived. The fire broke out at 11pm and Choi died along with three of his friends. The only survivor from the group was Cheng Sze-lap, who recalled the night of horror from a hospital bed.

'We were very happy and excited at the moment when a 'policeman' fired a gun and lit the fireworks,' he said. 'But suddenly something went wrong. In just a short while, maybe 10 or 12 seconds, all the lights went out and girls began screaming.

'There were no lights and there was more and more smoke in the air - no fresh air. It was hard to breathe. I could only follow the crowd, and pushed a girl in front of me while those behind pushed me. The passageway was too narrow. We could not move very quickly and were trapped there. I was trampled underfoot and soon fell unconscious.'

When he came to, Mr Cheng found himself in a hospital bed. Four of Choi's friends rushed to Shenzhen from Hong Kong, but they only found Mr Cheng.

'We lost almost all of them. Why did it happen? Why did we come to Shenzhen?' said one.