Six dead in New Zealand hostel fire, death toll may rise.
Six dead in New Zealand hostel fire, death toll may rise.© Images AGN

At least six people have been killed after a fire engulfed a hostel in New Zealand’s capital Wellington and authorities fear the death toll could rise when rescue team can safely look through the gutted building.

© Provided by Al Jazeera

Fire crews were informed to the blaze at the 92-room Loafers Lodge hostel in central Wellington at about 12:30am on Tuesday morning (12:30 GMT, Monday). Fire and Emergency incident commander Bruce Stubbs said six bodies had been found so far but a full search of the premises had not been possible due to the extent of the fire damage.

“There is a significant amount of debris from the roof collapse but at this stage, we have located six people,” Stubbs told a news conference.

“We won’t know … how those people perished at this stage until we work with cops and our fire investigators to determine that with the coroner … At the moment, I’m working on the six and police are working with their teams to identify other people,” he said, according to state broadcaster Radio New Zealand (RNZ).

Earlier, cops said 11 people were still missing while 52 had escaped from the building, with at least five rescued from the roof by fire crews. Five were taken to hospital, with two in a serious state.

“We have yet to fully reconcile a list of all of those people who were here last night, we will not speculate on how many people were here and where they have gone,” acting district chief for Wellington police Dion Bennett said.

The blaze broke out on the top floor of the hostel, located in Wellington’s Newtown neighbourhood, which offered accommodation for people including construction workers, hospital staff and those serving sentences in the community for minor crimes. The reason of the fire is not known, but emergency services were treating the incident as suspicious.

Loafers Lodge tenant Tala Sili said he saw smoke coming under his door and opened it to find the hallway full of smoke. He chose to jump out the window onto a roof two floors below.

“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 told state-owned RNZ.

A second resident said fire alarms would sound regularly in the hostel but none sounded to alert residents to the fire.

Resident Chris Fincham said he was only alerted to the fire because people were shouting threats.

“I heard a voice coming down the passageway saying ‘evacuate, evacuate, the place is on fire’ – and I didn’t think much of it because the fire alarms would go off two or three times a week and we’d just ignore it,” he told RNZ.

“But then when I heard this guy, or this person, screaming ‘there’s a fire, evacuate’, I sat there for about five minutes and then I put my shoes on, got my wallet together, and I thought maybe I should leave.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins viewed the site and spoke with emergency service providers.

“It is an absolute tragedy and it is a horrific situation,” Hipkins told reporters after the visit.

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