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Scores Die in Ho Chi Minh City Fire - 2002-10-29

A fire in a six-story office building in Vietnam has killed at least 54 people. Rescue workers did not have equipment to immediately reach trapped office workers.

Dozens of people jumped from windows as helpless firefighters looked on when fire engulfed the Saigon International Trade Center in Ho Chi Minh City. It took rescue workers at least four hours to find ladders high enough to reach windows above the second floor, state media said.

Plumes of white smoke billowed through busy streets in the early afternoon. By late evening, 54 people were confirmed dead.

The blaze was extinguished more than six hours after it started, but some officials warned the death toll could climb higher as rescue workers sift through the charred building. That process will not begin until Wednesday because the building is too hot to enter.

At least 500 people usually worked in the six-story office complex, which housed several foreign companies, a shopping center, and a nightclub.

The American International Assurance Company has offices in the building and at least six of its employees are missing and feared dead, official media reported.

It was the largest fire in years for Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon and Vietnam's largest commercial center with 10 million people.

The cause of the fire is not known, but public safety officials recently warned that fires were on the rise and electrical problems cause at least half of them.