TAIPEI, Taiwan At least 46 people were killed and dozens more injured after a fire broke out early Thursday in a large commercial and residential building in southern Taiwan that had deteriorated badly in recent years, according to local officials and news reports.
At least 41 other people were being treated for injuries, local fire officials said in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s main port city where the fire broke out. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, said Lee Ching-hsiu, the city’s fire chief.
Surveillance footage from a neighboring building showed a flash of light on the ground floor and soon the entire floor was engulfed in flames, according to local news reports. Photos and videos circulating on the internet showed shocked and soot-covered elderly residents being escorted out of the burned building, some on a stretcher.
Firefighters received the first calls for help around 3 a.m. Thursday and put out the fire about four hours later. In the afternoon, they were still searching for survivors in the 13-storey building. The building was inhabited by about 120 families, mostly low-income and elderly residents living between the seventh and 11th floors.
It was a sea of flames, said Lin Chuan-fu, 57, a Kaohsiung resident living near the building, in a telephone interview.
Mr Lin said a loud explosion woke him up around 3am and he took to the streets to see what was happening. He said the flames had quickly shifted from the ground floor to the higher floors. He added that he was concerned that some of the older residents living on the higher floors would find it difficult to evacuate in the dark.
They may not have had enough time to get out, he said.
Built in the 1980s, the 13-storey building is located near the Love River in central Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s third largest city. Conditions in the once-prosperous building began to deteriorate after a fire broke out in the building in 1999, according to local reports. While no one died in that fire, the building was partially abandoned, and occupants and gamblers began to move. Among the locals, it became known as the ghost building Kaohsiungs No.1.
Recent photos and videos showed what appeared to be alarming security conditions inside the building, including exposed electricity cables, corroded water pipes and piles of debris blocking the dark stairwells.
Several developers have tried to take over and renovate the building in recent years, according to Apple Daily, a local news newspaper. But those efforts met with resistance from building occupants.
Lin Chin-rong, Kaohsiung deputy mayor, said the building had been inspected by police and fire officials four times since 2019. He said an inspection notice had been posted on the building on Tuesday, but that an obstacle had prevented firefighters from went to the higher floors.
He said local fire officials and government construction workers had been in contact with the self-appointed representative buildings in the days before the blaze.
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