Exotic dancers burned to death at seaside resort after owner failed to tell firefighters they were inside (w/gallery)

Published: April 8, 2014

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Mihaela Tuca, left, Nicoleta VasiliĹŁeanu, middle Nicoleta Cengher, right


Romanian police are investigating allegations that three young female dancers burned alive in a club at a Romanian seaside resort because the owner failed to tell firemen they were there.

George Karam, 60, owner of the Beirut Club in the popular seaside resort of Constanta just east of the capital Bucharest, fled together with guests and staff when the fire broke out.

And although firemen believed the building had been evacuated, when they searched the building three hours later after the fire had burned out, they discovered the bodies of star performer Mihaela Tuca, 24, her best friend and fellow performer Nicoleta Vasiliteanu, 23, and the singer they had recently taken on to join them in their performance, Nicoleta Cengher, 22.

Mariana Szarkany, Nicoleta Cengher’s mother, said: “That owner is an evil man. He counted his chefs, he counted his waiters, he counted his bartenders. Why did he not tell them about the other girls? Did he forget about them? Did he forgot about those who were the stars of the show and brought all the glamour?”

And Nicoleta Vasiliteanu’s mother Maria added: “They brought my girl’s body out and took her to the morgue. I saw the place burning, had I known my girl was upstairs, I would have gone through the fire for her! Why didn’t they tell me? Why did the boss say all the personnel had been evacuated?”

A friend of the girls said: “It is so tragic, Miheala had been working as an exotic dancer since she was a teenager and really struggled to get some recognition. She didn’t want to simply be one of the people that gets undressed on stage and wanted to bring something a bit more classy to the area, she had a very tasteful act which she had really worked on over the winter that involved belly dancing and a lot of acrobatics, she made all the costumes herself and worked out the routines. Things had finally started to come together for her. She and the others were really packing in the crowds and it looked like it was going to be a great season, and then finally this happens.”

Survivors of the blaze said that the three had just completed a routine and had gone to the locker room upstairs to change into new costumes leaving a fourth dancer, Nicoleta Buirencu, 19, who is a student at the Economics University and was working as a dancer to subsidise the grant, performing on the stage.

They said that thick black smoke had then suddenly started to fill the restaurant which also had an adjoining casino, and everybody stampeded for the exits.

The teenage dancer was one of the last to escape after she was pulled out from the inferno badly burned and taken to hospital. It was unclear whether she was rescued by firemen, or other staff.

Firemen said they had not realized that other dancers were still in the building.

A fire brigade spokesman confirmed: “When the blaze was extinguished, we went inside to dampen it down. That was three hours later, and it was only then that we found the three badly burned bodies. They must have been trapped upstairs by the smoke, and probably waited in vain for rescue that never came. Nobody told us they were there, and at some stage the floor of the room they were in collapsed, dumping their bodies into the burning restaurant below.”

An initial autopsy said that the three young women had died from carbon monoxide poisoning before they were burned alive.

Police confirmed they were investigating the allegations that the restaurant had not applied the proper safety procedures, and for not having the correct paperwork for the people they had working there. They said that they had been told by the restaurant owner Karam that he suspected arson because his staff had seen a guest going to a toilet area at the rear of the property, and that at the same time surveillance cameras had stopped working because cables had been cut. Seconds after the cameras went down, fire had broken out, he said.

They also confirmed that in the recent past Karam been fined for employing staff illegally including a 16,000 GBP fine for employing the girls without documents. And he had also been hit with a 1500 GBP fine for not ensuring the proper safety standards for staff working on the premises, although they did not elaborate on what this meant.

Karam however denied he had forgotten about the girls, and added: “I did everything possible to save them. They were like my daughters”.

And he was backed up by barkeeper Georgiana Ionescu who said firemen had ignored her when she said there were girls inside. She said: “No one listened to me. No one. I was crying that the girls are burning upstairs, but no one listened. Firemen were passing-by, everyone was passing-by.”

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