By HUIZHONG WU
KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (AP) – At least 46 people have been killed and 41 others injured after a fire broke out early Thursday in a decades-old commercial and residential building in the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung, officials said. responsible.
Locals said the 13-story building housed many poor, elderly and disabled people and that the number of units out of 120 was occupied.
Witnesses said they heard something that sounded like an explosion around 3 a.m. when the fire broke out in the lower floors of the building, which housed a closed movie theater, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs.
Lin Chie-ying said she was awoken in her home in front of the fire by the sound of ambulances and fire trucks.
“I thought our house would burn down too,” she said.
The building is one of several in Yancheng District, an older part of Kaohsiung, a city of some 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 press conference, bowing in apology. “Here, I want to express my deepest sorrow to all injured and those who have died, as well as their families and all residents.”
It was not until 7 am for the firefighters to extinguish the fire. Many upper floors did not appear to have been directly damaged.
Late in the day, the smell of smoke still lingered throughout the area and the sound of shattered glass echoed. Construction workers were raised on a crane to smash the remaining glass from the window frames with a crowbar to eliminate any further danger.
Throughout Thursday, first responders looked into the wreckage and recovered dozens of bodies. Another 14 out of 55 initially taken to hospital were confirmed dead on arrival or shortly thereafter.
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 appeared that the fire started on the ground floor, but it was not immediately clear where exactly and the cause was still under investigation.
The United Daily News said investigators were focusing on a first-floor tea room where the fire started, and police were investigating a resident who allegedly fought with his girlfriend earlier on Wednesday. They had not ruled out arson, the newspaper said.
Fire extinguishers had been installed last month, but only three per floor because residents couldn’t afford to pay more, the United Daily News, a major newspaper, reported.
In 1995, a fire at a nightclub in Taichung, Taiwan’s third largest city, killed 64 people in the country’s deadliest disaster in recent times.