HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (AP) -- Rescuers searched through the blackened remains of a six-story building ravaged by fire in Ho Chi Minh City, finding more victims, but fewer than they had initially feared, officials said Wednesday.
The confirmed number of dead rose to 60 from Tuesday's fire at the International Trade Center building, but the toll was expected to rise with scores of people still in hospitals, many with critical injuries, city officials said. State-controlled newspapers said the death toll could exceed 100.
Police were still investigating the cause, but suspected a possible gas leak on the second floor. Firefighters complained they had to deal with low water pressure, poor equipment and too-short ladders while battling the blaze.
Hundreds of weeping relatives waited outside the local mortuary and crowds on motorbikes gathered to stare at the burned-out building, which housed the city's most popular disco, jewelry shops, an expensive restaurant and offices of several dozen international companies, including an American insurance company.
The dead included two Britons, a Vietnamese-American, and a Croatian, city officials said. The U.S. Consulate identified the American as Vi Ai Hu, a Ho Chi Minh City resident from California whose Vietnamese wife also perished in the blaze. The three others were not immediately identified.
More than 10 staff and agents of the American International Assurance Co. perished, a company official said. About 100 insurance agents, undergoing training, were among about 500 people believed to have been inside the building when the fire broke out.
"It was a terrible tragedy," said the official, who identified himself only as Chen.
Huynh Thi Mac, an agent attending the training course, said people panicked when the electricity went out and large amounts of smoke poured up the stairs.
"We rushed to the roof, and I started climbing down a rain water drainage pipe outside the building. At first I didn't dare jump from there, but I realized if I didn't I could be killed by the fire. I'm lucky, because many people could not escape. I broke my leg."
Witnesses described seeing many others seriously injured, and some dying, while jumping to escape the flames. Other victims screamed for help from the roof as flames engulfed them, they said.
Passers-by helped carry the injured to safety.
City officials pledged to re-examine fire safety precautions after being criticized for being inadequately prepared.
"The effectiveness of (the firefighters') efforts was very small because of the limitations of their equipment," the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said.
The fire was the city's worst in terms of loss of life and property damage.
At a news conference, city culture and ideology chief Pham Phuong Thao berated local newspapers for having carried pictures of suffering victims on their front pages instead of showing brave firefighters battling the blaze.
She said all entertainment activities would be suspended to commemorate the dead for three days in the city, formerly named Saigon.
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