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Fire in Kuwait kills more than 35 people in building housing foreign workers

Kuwait City — More than 35 people were killed and dozens injured after a fire broke out at dawn in a building housing nearly 200 foreign workers in Kuwait, officials said on Wednesday. Forty-three people were injured, the health ministry said, in the blaze in the Mangaf area south of Kuwait City, which is heavily populated with migrant laborers.

"Unfortunately, we received a report of a fire at... exactly 6:00 am (0300 GMT) in the Mangaf area," Major General Eid Al-Owaihan, head of the interior ministry's General Department of Criminal Evidence, said at the site. "As for the deaths in the building behind me, the number has exceeded 35 so far."

Images from the scene showed soot blackening the exterior of the six-story building, which housed 196 workers, according to information given to the minister by their employer.

People walk past a building which was hit by a deadly fire in Kuwait City, June 12, 2024. YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty

Oil-rich Kuwait has large numbers of foreign workers, many of them from South and Southeast Asia, and mostly working in construction or service industries.

According to a source in the General Fire Department, the victims suffocated from smoke inhalation after the fire broke out on the ground floor.

Forensic teams are working at the site and have identified three bodies so far, Owaihan said.

The nationalities of the victims have not been announced but the Indian ambassador, when contacted by AFP, said he was at the hospital visiting survivors.

India's Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar posted on X that he was "deeply shocked by the news" and offered "deepest condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives".

The building's owner has been detained in an investigation into potential negligence, Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef said as he visited the scene.

Any properties found to have violated safety regulations will be evacuated immediately, he warned.

"We will work to address the issue of labour overcrowding and neglect," the minister said. "We will detain the owner of the property where the fire broke out until legal procedures are completed."

The blaze is one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world's oil reserves.

In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, apparently seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.

Nusra al-Enezi threw petrol on the tent and set it alight as people celebrated inside. She was hanged in 2017 for the crime, whose victims included many women and children.

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