At least 46 people died and another 41 were injured in southern Taiwan after a 40-year-old building caught fire, early on October 14th.
The fire broke out in the 40-year-old building in Kaohsiung’s Yancheng district in the early hours of October 15th and was extinguished around dawn.
The Kaohsiung fire department said in a statement that after completing a search of the building they were able to confirm 46 deaths.
Mayor Chen Chi-mai said the building was partly abandoned.
The government is investigating the cause including whether arson was to blame.
Neighbourhood residents said the 13-storey building was home to many poor, elderly and disabled people and it wasn’t clear how many of the 120 units were occupied.
Witnesses said they heard something that sounded like an explosion at about 3 a.m. local time when the blaze erupted in the building’s lower floors, which housed a closed movie theatre, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs.
Throughout October 14th first responders searched through the wreckage and recovered dozens of bodies. Another 14 of 55 taken initially to the hospital were confirmed dead on arrival or shortly after.
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.
Later in the day, the smell of smoke still lingered and the sound of shattering glass rang throughout the area. Construction workers were raised on a crane to break out the remaining glass from window frames with a crowbar, and waited to put up scaffolding to prevent the building from being a further hazard.
Scattered crowds of people gathered across the street. Curious onlookers drove by on their scooters and paused to look at the damage.
The decades-old apartment building is one of many in the Yancheng district, an older part of Kaohsiung, a city of 2.8 million people in southwestern Taiwan.
“For the families and Yancheng, I feel incomparable pain and I blame myself deeply,” Mayor Chen Chi Mai said at a news conference, bowing in apology. “Here I want to express my deepest sorrow to all the wounded and those who died, as well as their families and all the residents.”
It appears the fire broke out on the ground floor and the cause was still under investigation.
The United Daily News said that investigators were focusing on a first-floor tea shop, and police were looking into a resident who reportedly fought with his girlfriend earlier on October 13th.
Fire extinguishers had been installed last month, but only three per floor because the residents could not afford to pay more, the United Daily News reported.
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.
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