A fire in a New Zealand hostel kills at least six people – the fire chief’s “worst nightmare”.
A fire raged overnight at a hostel in the New Zealand capital, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee the four-storey building in their pajamas in what a fire chief on Tuesday described as his “worst nightmare”.
Fifty-two people died at the Loafers Lodge hostel in Wellington, but firefighters were still looking for more people, said Nick Pyatt, Wellington Fire and Emergency District Chief. He said they were called to the hostel around 12:30pm
Authorities told local media that 11 people were still missing and that the building had no water sprinklers.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told the AM morning news program he understood six people were dead and the death toll was likely to rise. Police said they do not have an exact death toll, although they believe the total death toll was less than ten.
“This morning I thanked the fire and rescue workers who attended the tragic event at Loafers Lodge in Wellington. Along with our other first responders, they did a great job in terrible circumstances,” Hipkins wrote on Instagram.
Hipkins said the building is currently unsafe for police and it could be some time before authorities confirm the death toll.
“It’s an absolute tragedy. It’s a terrible situation,” the prime minister told reporters. “Of course, over time there will be a number of inquiries into what happened and why it happened. But now the focus must clearly be on managing the situation.”
Responding to comments from first responders that the building was not sprinkler-equipped, Hipkins said the New Zealand Building Code does not currently require sprinklers to be retrofitted to older buildings.
Loafers Lodge resident Tala Sili told the Stuff news agency that he was surrounded by thick smoke and could feel the heat of the fire, although he could not see the flames.
“It smelled like poison,” he said.
Sili said he jumped out of a window to escape and sprained his ankle in the process.
Other residents told reporters that fire alarms were regularly going off in the building, possibly from smokers or over-sensitive smoke detectors, leading many to initially think it was another false alarm.
Pyatt, the fire chief, said his thoughts are with the families of those who died and with the crews who rescued those who could and were trying to rescue those who couldn’t.
“It’s our worst nightmare,” Pyatt said. “It doesn’t get any worse.”
Police said the cause of the fire was initially unknown.
Richard MacLean, spokesman for Wellington City Council, said city and government officials had assisted about 50 people who escaped the fire and had been to an emergency room the council set up at a local running track, which has showers and had other facilities.
He said several elderly people fled the building with only their pajamas on.
“Many are obviously shaken and confused by what happened,” he said.
The hostel offers a combination of short-term and long-term rentals, MacLean said. He doesn’t have all the details, he said, but assumes it will be used by various government agencies to provide clients with the accommodation they need.
Health officials said two people who were inside the building were being treated in hospitals and both were in stable condition. Three other patients had been treated and discharged, while a sixth patient decided to leave the hospital before seeking treatment.
Loafers Lodge advertises itself as affordable accommodation for people staying in the capital, whether traveling on business or visiting the nearby Wellington Hospital. It has 92 rooms and advertises them as long term available.