TAIPEI, Taiwan – At least 46 people were killed and dozens injured in an early Thursday morning fire in a large commercial and residential building in southern Taiwan that has deteriorated dramatically in recent years, according to local officials and media reports.
According to local firefighters in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s main port city, where the fire broke out, at least 41 people were being treated for their injuries. According to the head of the city fire department Li Ching-hsiu, the cause of the fire has not yet been clarified.
According to local news reports, surveillance footage from a nearby building showed a flash of light on the first floor, and soon the entire floor was engulfed in flames. Photos and videos circulating on the Internet show stunned and soot-covered elderly people being led out of a burnt building, some on stretchers.
Firefighters received their first calls for help around 3 am Thursday and put out the fire about four hours later. By noon, survivors were still being searched for in the 13-story building. The building was home to about 120 families, mostly low-income and elderly people, living between the seventh and 11th floors.
“It was a sea of flames,” said Lin Chuan-fu, 57, a Kaohsiung resident who lives near the building, in a telephone interview.
Mr. Lin said that a loud explosion woke him up at about 3 am and went outside to see what was happening. He said the flames quickly moved from the first floor to the upper floors. He added that he was concerned that some of the older people living on the upper floors would find it difficult to evacuate in the dark.
“They probably didn’t have enough time to get out,” he said.
The 13-story building, dating from the 1980s, is located near the Love River in the center of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s third largest city. Conditions in the once prosperous building began to deteriorate after a fire broke out in 1999, according to local reports. Although no one was killed in the fire, the building was partially abandoned and squatters and players began to move in. It became known among the locals as “Kaohsiung’s No. 1 Ghost Building.”
Recent photographs and videos have shown what appear to be troubling security conditions inside the building, including exposed electrical cables, rusted water pipes, and piles of debris blocking dark stairwells.
According to local news agency Apple Daily, several developers have tried to renovate the building in recent years. But these efforts met with resistance from the residents of the house.
Lin Ching-jung, deputy mayor of Kaohsiung, said the building has been inspected by police and firefighters four times since 2019. did not allow fire service personnel to climb to the upper floors.
He said local firefighters and government builders had contacted self-appointed representatives of the building several days before the fire started.