KAOSIUN, Taiwan (AP). Authorities said Thursday authorities said that a fire that spiraled out of control within hours overnight in a major city in southern Taiwan killed 46 people and injured at least 41.
Flames and smoke rose from the lower floors of the 13-story building as firefighters tried to extinguish flames on the street and from aerial platforms in Kaohsiung City. A statement from the fire department described the fire, which began at about 3 am, described as “extremely violent” and said that several floors had been destroyed.
The death toll rose steadily throughout the day as rescuers searched the combined commercial and residential building. By evening, authorities said 32 bodies had been sent to the morgue, and another 14 who showed no signs of life were among the 55 taken to the hospital. In Taiwan, the official confirmation of death is done in a hospital.
After dawn, firefighters could be seen spraying water onto the middle floors of the still smoldering building from high aerial platforms. One unidentified woman said on Taiwanese television that her parents in their 60s and 70s are still inside.
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.
Many residents of the 40-year-old building were elderly and lived alone in 13 square meters (140 square feet) apartments, local media reported. The building had 120 residential units on the upper floors, as well as an indoor cinema, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs underneath, the Central News Agency reported.
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.
According to Taiwanese media reports, the fire appears to have started on the first floor.
The United Daily News reported that investigators were focusing on a ground-floor tea shop, the owner of which reportedly had a falling out with his girlfriend earlier Wednesday. They did not rule out arson, the newspaper writes.
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.