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Seven die in South Africa apartment block blaze

Women walk past a dilapidated squatter building that caught fire in the central business district of Johannesburg on July 5, 2017. Seven people were killed and another seven injured in the incident.<br />/ AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI

Seven people died Wednesday when a dilapidated high-rise building occupied by illegal squatters in downtown Johannesburg caught fire, highlighting a housing crisis in South Africa’s economic hub.

Emergency workers said the fire broke out in the abandoned building which had no running water and electricity early in the morning.

“Six people died from smoke inhalation and one person died after he jumped out of the building try to escape,” said Johannesburg Emergency Management Services spokeswoman Nana Radebe.

She said 50 people were rescued from the blaze, seven of them requiring hospitalisation for burns and smoke inhalation treatment.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but an eyewitness told local media that the inferno was sparked by a generator used by one tenant for lighting.

Illegal occupation of disused buildings in the city is a widespread problem, with many building said to be under the control of criminal syndicates who collect rent from occupants.

According to city officials, over 300,000 people around the Johannesburg metro area were on the waiting list for government subsidised homes.

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