‘It Was a Sea of Flames’: At Least 46 Killed in Taiwan Apartment Fire

TAIPEI, Taiwan — At least 46 people were killed and dozens of others injured after a fire broke out early Thursday at a large commercial and residential building in southern Taiwan that had badly deteriorated in recent years, according to local officials and news reports.

At least 41 other people were being treated for injuries, said local fire officials in Kaohsiung, the main port city in Taiwan, where the fire occurred. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, said Lee Ching-hsiu, the city’s fire chief.

Surveillance footage from a neighboring building showed a flash of light on the first floor, and soon the entire floor was engulfed in flames, according to local news reports. Photos and videos circulating online showed dazed and soot-covered older residents being escorted out of the charred building, some on stretchers.

Firefighters using water cannons to extinguish the fire.Credit…Kaohsiung fire bureau

Firefighters received the first calls for help around 3 a.m. on Thursday and extinguished the blaze about four hours later. By the afternoon, they were still looking for survivors in the 13-story building. The building was inhabited by about 120 families, 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 around 3 a.m., and he went into the street to see what was happening. He said the flames had moved quickly from the ground floor to the higher floors. He added that he was worried that some of the older residents living on the higher floors would have had a hard time evacuating in the dark.

“They might not have had enough time to get out,” he said.

Paramedics transporting bodies from the scene of the fire.Credit…Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Built in the 1980s, the 13-story building is near the Love River in central Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s third-biggest city. Conditions in the once-prosperous building began to deteriorate after a fire broke out in the building in 1999, according to local reports. While no one died in that fire, the building was partly abandoned, and squatters and gamblers began to move in. Among local residents, it became known as “Kaohsiung’s No. 1 ghost building.”

Recent photos and video showed what appeared to be alarming safety conditions inside the building, including exposed electricity cables, corroded water pipes and piles of debris blocking dark stairwells.

Several developers tried to take over and renovate the building in recent years, according to Apple Daily, a local news outlet. But those efforts met with resistance from the building’s residents.

Firefighters taking a break while searching for victims.Credit…Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Lin Chin-rong, the deputy mayor of Kaohsiung, said the building had been inspected by the police and fire officials four times since 2019. He said that an inspection notice had been posted on the building as recently as Tuesday, but that a barrier had prevented fire officials from going to the higher floors.

He said that local fire officials and government construction workers had been in touch with the building’s self-appointed representatives in the days before the fire broke out.

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