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Vietnam to Introduce Stricter Fire Safety Measures - 2002-10-31

Vietnam will introduce stricter fire safety enforcement following an inferno in a six-story office building Tuesday in the commercial capital, Ho Chi Min City. The death toll stands at 61 with many more badly charred bodies yet to be identified.

Vietnam's Communist Party leader Nong Duc Manh toured the charred rubble of the Saigon International Trade Center and visited the injured after the deadly fire. He says the disaster should be a lesson to the whole country on the importance of fire safety.

Other officials are openly criticizing the fire department's lack of preparation. Le Thanh Hai, head of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, says the incident showed the "weakness" of firefighting in the city. During the fire, rescue workers stood by helpless as trapped victims called to them. It took firefighters four hours to find ladders to reach upper windows.

The head of Ho Chi Minh City's fire department told local newspapers the focus should be on prevention, saying 80 percent of all fire detection equipment in the city is outdated. Others called for a crackdown on building inspections, a notoriously corrupt process that many bypass completely. As a result, fires are fairly common, with nearly 200 so far this year in the city alone.

On Thursday, rescue workers continued to sift through the remains of the center, trying to identify dozens of bodies as anxious family members waited for news. The fire has left a blackened hole in the city's biggest business district.

The official cause of the blaze has yet to be determined. Investigators are looking at the possibility there was a gas leak ignited by welders working in the building.