TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A building fire that raged out of control for hours overnight in a major city in southern Taiwan left 46 people dead and at least 41 others injured, authorities said Thursday.
Firefighters attempted to extinguish the flames from the building’s 13th-floor lower floors using aerial platforms and street lights. A fire department statement described the fire, which started about 3 a.m., as “extremely fierce” and said several floors had been destroyed.
As rescuers searched both residential and commercial properties, the death count climbed steadily throughout the day. Authorities reported 32 bodies had been reported to the morgue by late afternoon. A further 14 were taken to the hospital with no apparent signs of life. Taiwanese hospitals are the ones that confirm a death.
From high altitude aerial platforms, firefighters were seen spraying water on the floor below the burning building after morning break. Taiwanese TV reported that a woman who did not want to be identified said her 60-70-year-old parents were still at home.
The building’s age and piles of debris blocking access to many areas complicated search and rescue efforts, officials said, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
According to local media, many residents were older and lived alone in tiny apartments of 13 square meters (140 feet). According to the Central News Agency, there were 120 units of residential housing on the top floors. There was also a movie theatre, abandoned restaurants, and karaoke bars below.
The United Daily News reported that fire extinguishers have been installed, with three on each floor. This was because residents were unable to afford additional.
Taiwanese media reported that the fire started from the ground floor.
According to the United Daily News, investigators are focusing their attention on a tea shop on the first floor whose owner had fought his girlfriend on Wednesday. The newspaper stated that they had not yet ruled out arson.
A 1995 fire at a nightclub in Taichung, Taiwan’s third-largest city, killed 64 people in the country’s deadliest such disaster in recent times.