EBC through AP
KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan At least 46 people were killed and 41 others injured after a fire broke out early Thursday in a decades-old mixed-use commercial and residential building in the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung, officials said.
Residents of the neighborhood said the 13-story building was home to many poor, elderly and disabled people and it was not clear how many of the 120 units were occupied.
Witnesses said they heard something that sounded like an explosion around 3 a.m. when the fire broke out on the lower floors of the building, where there was a closed cinema, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs.
Lin Chie-ying said she was awake in her home in front of the fire from the sounds of ambulances and fire trucks.
“I thought our house would burn down too,” she said.
The apartment building is one of many in Yancheng district, an older part of Kaohsiung, a city of about 2.8 million people in southwest Taiwan.
“For the families and Yancheng, I feel incomparable pain and blame myself deeply,” Mayor Chen Chi Mai told a news conference, bowing in apology. “Here I want to express my deepest condolences to all the injured and those who died, as well as their families and all the residents.”
It took firefighters until 7 a.m. to put out the fire. Many of the upper floors did not appear to have been directly damaged.
Late in the day, the smell of smoke was still coming from all over the area and the sound of breaking glass was falling. Construction workers mounted on a crane to break the remaining glass from the window frames with a rod to remove further danger.
Throughout Thursday, the first responders went through the rubble and found dozens of bodies. Another 14 of the 55 initially sent to the hospital were confirmed dead on arrival or shortly afterwards.
The age of the building and the piles of debris blocking access to many areas complicated search and rescue efforts, officials said, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
It appears the fire broke out on the ground floor, but it was not immediately clear exactly where and the cause was still under investigation.
United Daily News said investigators were concentrating on a tea shop on the first floor where the fire started, and police were watching a resident who reportedly fought with his girlfriend early Wednesday. They had not ruled out arson, the newspaper said.
Fire extinguishers were installed last month, but only three per floor because residents could not afford to pay more, reported the Daily Daily News, a leading newspaper.
A 1995 fire at a nightclub in Taichung, Taiwan’s third-largest city, killed 64 people in the country’s deadliest catastrophe in recent times.
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