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Orphanage fire kills 13 children in South Africa

Sarah Holland, the director and founder of the Hope of Christ Home in KwaZulu-Natal province, died along with 13 children two other adults, said South Africa's Sapa news agency. Nine other people were hurt when flames completely destroyed the Hope of Christ orphanage in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Ms Holland, known as Granny, gathered the children into the only room without burglar bars, according to one of the children who survived. “Granny passed us all the little babies,” Zanele Nkosi, 11, told South Africa’s The Times newspaper. “I gave the babies to my friend and we put them (on) one side and waited for others.” Ms Holland ran the orphanage in her home on a small farm, said Mandla Ngema, spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Department. Three of her grandchildren who were living with her were among the dead. “There was a fire escape, however, it was at night and it was an accident so we don’t know what happened,” Ngema told Associated Press news agency.

Firefighters and medical workers dressed in blue plastic gowns with masks over their faces lifted bodies of children as young as two years old from the remains of the building. Pictures showed the workers using plastic sheeting to carry the children's bodies into a field close by while the orphanage smouldered. Albert Kubheka, who lives next to the home, told eTV: “I heard people crying inside. We tried to rescue them, but we couldn’t get inside, as the flames were too big. Then they were quiet and we realized they were dead.” Police don't know yet what started yesterday’s 6am blaze although fire investigators from Pretoria are searching for clues.

South Africa's crippling Aids epidemic has left the country with an estimated 1.5 million orphans, in a country of 48 million people, according to figures from the Telegraph newspaper. Its government supports about 238,000 Aids orphans and to more than 20,000 homes where older children care for younger siblings after their parents died from the disease. Nearly 495,000 Aids orphans are in foster care and  the government is encouraging more adoptions. But South Africans in 2008 adopted only a tiny fraction of the Aids orphans, about 1,900, a drop of nearly 13 per cent from the previous year. A study by the Institute of Race Relations predicted that by 2015, one third of all the children in South Africa would have lost one or both parents

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children