A building fire that went haywire for hours overnight in a major southern Taiwan city left 46 dead and at least 41 injured, authorities said Thursday.
Flames and smoke billowed from the lower floors of the 13-story building as firefighters tried to put out the fire from the street and aerial platforms in the city of Kaohsiung. A statement from the fire department described the blaze, which started around 3 am, as “extremely fierce” and said several floors had been destroyed.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the day as rescuers searched the combined commercial and residential building. By late afternoon, authorities said 32 bodies had been sent to the morgue, while another 14 people showing no signs of life were among 55 taken to the hospital. In Taiwan, the official confirmation of a death is made in the hospital.
After sunrise, firefighters could be seen spraying water on the middle floors of the still-smoking building from high aerial platforms. One woman, who was not identified, said on Taiwanese television that her parents aged 60 to 70 were still inside.
The age of the building and piles of rubble blocking access to many areas complicated search and rescue efforts, authorities said, according to the Taiwan Central News Agency.
Many of the building’s 40-year-old residents were elderly and lived alone in apartments as small as 13 square meters (140 square feet), local media said. The building had 120 residential units on the upper floors, as well as a closed movie theater, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs below them, the Central News Agency said.
Fire extinguishers were installed last month, but only three per floor because residents couldn’t afford more, United Daily News, a major newspaper, reported.
The fire appeared to have started on the ground floor, Taiwanese media said.
The United Daily News said investigators were targeting a first-floor tea shop whose owner reportedly got into a fight with his girlfriend on Wednesday. They had not ruled out arson, the newspaper said.
TO 1995 fire in a nightclub in TaichungThe third-largest city in Taiwan, it killed 64 people in the country’s deadliest disaster in recent times.