Author: HUIZHONG WU
KAOSIUN, Taiwan (AP) – At least 46 people were killed and another 41 injured in a fire that erupted early Thursday in an old mixed commercial and residential building in the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung, officials said.
District residents said the 13-story building was home to many poor, elderly and disabled people, and it was unclear how many of the 120 apartments were occupied.
Witnesses said they heard what looked like an explosion at about 3 am, when a fire broke out on the lower floors of the building, which contained an indoor cinema, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs.
Lin Jie-ying said that she woke up in her house in front of the fire to the sounds of ambulances and fire trucks.
“I thought our house would burn down too,” she said.
This apartment building is one of many in the Yancheng District, old Kaohsiung, a city of about 2.8 million in southwestern Taiwan.
“As for the families and Yancheng, I feel incomparable pain and deeply blame myself,” Mayor Chen Chi Mai said at a press conference, bowing in apology. “Here I want to express my deepest sorrow to all the injured and dead, as well as their families and all residents.”
Firefighters had to put out the fire before seven in the morning. Many of the upper floors were not directly damaged.
In the late afternoon, the smell of smoke still reigned everywhere, and there was the sound of breaking glass. The builders were hoisted onto a crane to break the remaining glass from the window frames with a crowbar to eliminate an additional hazard.
During Thursday, first responders examined the wreckage and found dozens of bodies. Another 14 of the 55 people admitted to the hospital were presumed dead on arrival or shortly thereafter.
Officials said the age of the building and the piles of debris blocking access to many areas have made search and rescue more difficult, according to the Taiwan Central News Agency.
It looks like a fire broke out on the first floor, but it was not immediately clear where exactly, and the reason is still being investigated.
The United Daily News reported that investigators are focusing on the ground floor teahouse where the fire started and police are looking for a resident who reportedly fought his girlfriend earlier Wednesday. They did not rule out arson, the newspaper writes.
Fire extinguishers were installed last month, but only three per floor because residents could not afford to pay more, according to major newspaper United Daily News.
A 1995 fire at a nightclub in Taichung, Taiwan’s third-largest city, killed 64 people in the country’s deadliest disaster in recent memory.