TAIPEI, Taiwan – At least 46 people have been killed and dozens more injured after a fire broke out early Thursday in a large commercial and residential building in southern Taiwan that had deteriorated badly in recent years, according to local officials and newspaper articles.
At least 41 other people have been treated for injuries, local firefighters said in Kaohsiung, the main port city in Taiwan, where the blaze occurred. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Lee Ching-hsiu, the city’s fire chief.
Surveillance footage from a nearby building showed a flash of light on the first floor, and soon the entire floor was engulfed in flames, according to local reports. Photos and videos circulating online showed elderly residents dazed and covered in soot being escorted out of the charred building, some on stretchers.
Firefighters received the first calls for help around 3 a.m. Thursday and extinguished the blaze about four hours later. In the afternoon, they were still looking for survivors in the 13-story building. The building was inhabited by around 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 resident of Kaohsiung who lives near the building, said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Lin said that a loud explosion woke him up around 3 am, and he went to the street to see what was going on. He said the flames quickly moved from the ground floor to the upper floors. He added that he was concerned that some of the older residents living on the upper floors would have difficulty evacuating in the dark.
“They may not have had enough time to come out,” he said.
Built in the 1980s, the 13-story building sits near the Love River in central Kaohsiung, the third largest city in Taiwan. Conditions in the once thriving building began to deteriorate after a fire broke out in the building in 1999, according to local reports. Although no one died in this fire, the building was partly abandoned and squatters and players began to settle there. Among local residents, it has become the “Kaohsiung No.1 Ghost Building”.
Recent photos and videos have shown what appeared to be alarming security conditions inside the building, including exposed power cables, corroded water pipes and piles of debris blocking dark stairwells.
Several developers have attempted to take over and renovate the building in recent years, according to Apple Daily, local media. But these efforts met with resistance from residents of the building.
Lin Chin-rong, deputy mayor of Kaohsiung, said the building has been inspected by police and firefighters four times since 2019. He said an inspection notice was posted on the building no later than this. that Tuesday, but that a barrier had been prevented firefighters from going to the upper floors.
He said local firefighters and government construction workers had been in contact with the building’s self-proclaimed officials in the days leading up to the blaze.