TAIPEI, Taiwan – At least 46 people were killed and dozens more injured after a fire broke out in a large commercial and residential building in southern Taiwan early Thursday, according to local officials and news reports.
At least 41 other people are being treated for injuries, said local fire officials in Taiwan’s main port city of Kaohsiung, where the fire broke out. City fire chief Lee Ching-hsiu said the cause of the blaze was under investigation.
According to local news reports, surveillance footage from a neighboring building showed lights on the first floor and soon the entire floor was engulfed in flames. Images and videos circulating online showed dazed and soot-covered old residents being carried out of the burnt building, some on stretchers.
Firefighters received their first call for help at around 3 am on Thursday and the fire was brought under control after about four hours. By noon, they were searching for survivors in the 13-storey building. About 120 families lived in the building, mostly low-income and older residents living between the seventh and 11th floors.
“It was a sea of flames,” Lin Chuan-fu, 57, a Kaohsiung resident who lives near the building, said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Lin said a loud explosion woke him up at about 3 a.m., and he went down the street to see what was happening. He said the flames were rising rapidly from the ground floor to the higher floors. He said he was worried that some older residents living on higher floors would find it difficult to get out in the dark.
“They may not have had enough time to get out,” he said.
Built in the 1980s, the 13-story building is near the Love River in central Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s third largest city. According to local reports, conditions in the once prosperous building began to deteriorate after a fire broke out in the building in 1999. While no one died in that fire, the building was partially abandoned, and gamblers and gamblers began to move in. Among local residents, it became known as “Kaohsiung’s No. 1 ghost building”.
Recent photos and videos show what was a dangerous state of security inside the building, with exposed electrical wires, water pipes and piles of rubble blocking dark stairs.
Several developers tried to take over and renovate the building in recent years, according to Apple Daily, a local news outlet. But those efforts were met with resistance from the building’s residents.
Kaohsiung Deputy Mayor Lin Chin-rong said police and fire officials have inspected the building four times since 2019. He said an inspection notice had been posted on the building as recently as Tuesday, but there was an obstacle preventing firefighters from going to the higher floors.
He said local fire officials and government construction workers were in contact with the building’s self-styled representatives in the days before the blaze.