Probe blames toll of 40 on lift workers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 1997, 12:00am

The Garley Building blaze that claimed 40 lives was started by welders who took no fire precautions whatsoever during lift maintenance, the commission of inquiry has concluded.

The welders, who were working on the upper floors, did not take any safety measures - even after they had started a small fire in a lift shaft a few hours before last November's tragedy, inquiry chairman Mr Justice Woo Kwok-hing said in his report summary.

It confirmed that sparks and molten metal from the welding started the blaze on the second-floor lobby where combustible materials, such as newspaper and wood, were stacked.

The interim report also looked into the circumstances leading to the high number of casualties.

It pointed out that lift repair work and notices urging people not to panic in case of smoke and burning had greatly reduced residents' awareness of the fire.

'Their prior experience with smoke and smell from the welding work and their knowledge of the notice lulled them into a false sense of security,' it said.

The difficulties met by the Fire Services Department also contributed to the high death toll, it added.

The report said when firefighters first arrived on the scene at 4.52 pm, they were distracted by victims screaming for help from windows and failed to rescue people trapped on the top three floors. When they tried to enter the building via the two internal staircases, they were blocked by thick smoke and heat, making rescue impossible.

Thirty-nine people were found dead on the top three floors following the blaze that raged for 21 hours.

Other reasons leading to the high number of casualties were: An unused manually-operated fire alarm which could have given an early warning; Smoke doors and lobby doors wedged open; Unfamiliarity with fire escape routes as no fire drills had been held before.

Victims' relatives were disappointed by the report, claiming it said nothing new.

'What we want is an independent and comprehensive report on why our relatives were burnt to death and who is responsible. I think it's the minimum respect to the dead,' said Tsui Man-kuen, whose younger sister Man-ying died on the top floor.