The Rault Center fire 40 years later

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wwltv.com

Posted on November 29, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 7 at 9:50 AM

[Watch video for WWL anchor/reporter Bill Elder's coverage from that day.]

Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News

Even today, four decades later, the images are haunting. On this day, the 40th anniversary of the Rault Center fire, memories of those who witnessed and responded to the tragedy, and one of the women who survived it, are still fresh.

On November 29, 1972, fire tore through the 17-story Rault Center building on Gravier Street downtown. As the flames spread, five women, who were trapped inside a beauty salon on the 15th floor, saw they had little choice.

As the situation grew more desparate, and despite the urging of firefighters not to risk their lives by jumping, the women tried to leap to safety. Television cameras captured the horrifying moment. The footage is difficult to watch even today and Eyewitness News has chosen not to replay it, out of respect for the victims.

One of the women who jumped, Natalie Smith, did survive, but five other people were killed. Three women died at the scene, as they plunged seven floors down, landing on the roof of another building.

Another one of the women died a few weeks later at the hospital. A man died in a hallway on the 14th floor.

The tragedy led to a change in state law, requiring sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings.

 

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