Sydney, Australia, May 16 (EFE).- Multiple people are dead and missing after a fire engulfed a 92-room hostel building in New Zealand’s capital city Wellington overnight, authorities said Tuesday.
The fire broke out at Loafers Lodge in the suburb of Newtown around 12.30am, police said.
“Our initial assessment is that the number of deceased is fewer than 10, however, we are not in a position to be any more specific until we can access the building,” it added in a statement.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the site and described the incident as “an absolute tragedy and it is a horrific situation.”
He had earlier said six people had been confirmed dead, and there were “likely to be more.”
Fifty-two people were rescued from inside the building and others were taken off the roof, with 11 people unaccounted for as of midday, according to public broadcaster Radio New Zealand.
Five people were taken to hospital, two of them in serious condition.
The lodge has 92 rooms with communal lounges, laundry rooms and kitchens on each of the three floors of accommodation above ground level, according to its website.
A resident told RNZ he had jumped out his window onto a roof two floors below to escape the thick smoke during the blaze, which was attended by more than 80 firefighters.
“I was on the top floor and I couldn’t go through the hallway because there was just too much smoke so I jumped out the window,” he said.
“It was just scary, it was really scary, but I knew I had to jump out the window or just burn inside the building.”
He was rescued by paramedics and treated for a sprained ankle.
Building manager Marie Murphy told news site Stuff that there were a range of people living in the hostel.
“We’ve got everyone living there. We have nurses. We’ve had doctors, nurses, unemployed people, meat workers, hospital staff. All sorts of people,” she said.
At this stage, it is not clear how the fire started.
“In the fullness of time, of course there will be a number of investigations about what has happened and why it happened, but for now, the focus needs to be on dealing with the situation,” Hipkins said.
He added that the building was not equipped with sprinklers, and the country’s building code does not require them to be retrofitted in older buildings.
Loafers Lodge had passed a building inspection earlier this year, RNZ reported Housing Minister Megan Woods as saying.
Chief Coroner Judge Anna Tutton in a statement expressed her condolences to the families of the victims.
“Coroners will be working hard with police to ensure that the victims are identified correctly, to enable them to be reunited with their families as soon as possible. In the meantime, I want to reassure families that those who have died are being treated with respect and dignity by all those involved,” she said.
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had spoken with Hipkins.
“This is a dreadful human tragedy. I expressed my condolences on behalf of Australia to our friends in New Zealand at this very difficult time,” Albanese told reporters in Melbourne.
An emergency fund has been set up by Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau to provide essential supplies and access to counseling and other services for residents. EFE