WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A fire ripped through a hostel in New Zealand’s capital overnight, killing at least six people and forcing others to flee the four-storey building in their pajamas in what a firefighter described Tuesday as “the worst… his nightmare.” . “
Wellington District Fire and Emergency Manager Nick Pyatt said 52 people had been identified at Loafers Lodge in Wellington, but firefighters were still looking for others. He said they were called to the hostel around 12:30 am
Prime Minister Chris Hepkins told a morning news program that he understood that six people were confirmed dead and that the death toll was likely to rise. Police said they did not have an exact tally of the death toll, although they believed the total number of dead was less than 10.
Hipkins said the building is not currently safe for police to enter and it may take some time for authorities to confirm the death toll.
It is an absolute tragedy. The prime minister told reporters it was a terrible situation. “Over time, of course, there will be a number of investigations into what happened and why it happened. But for now, obviously, the focus has to be on dealing with the situation.”
In response to comments from emergency officials that the building did not have fire sprinklers, Hipkins said it was not a New Zealand Building Code requirement for older buildings to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems.
Loafers Lodge resident Tala Seeley told the news outlet Stuff he was surrounded by thick smoke and could feel the heat from the fire despite not being able to see the flames.
“It smelled like poison,” he said.
Seely said he jumped out of a window to escape and sprained his ankle.
Other residents told reporters that fire alarms would sound regularly in the building, possibly from people smoking or overly sensitive smoke monitors, so many initially thought this was another false alarm.
Fire Chief Pyatt said his thoughts are with the families of those who died and with the crews who rescued those they could and tried to save those they couldn’t.
“This is our worst nightmare,” Pyatt said. “It doesn’t get any worse than this.”
Police said the cause of the fire was not immediately known.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard McLean said city and government officials were helping about 50 people who survived the fire and were at an emergency center set up by the council at a local jogging track with bathrooms and other facilities.
He said that a number of elderly people fled the building with only the pajamas they were wearing.
“Obviously a lot of people are shaken and stunned about what happened,” he said.
McLean said the lodge offered a mix of short-term and long-term rentals. He said he didn’t have all the details, but he believed they were used by various government agencies to provide customers with the required housing.
Health authorities said two people who were in the building were being treated in hospitals and both were in stable condition. Three others were treated and released from the hospital, while a sixth patient chose to leave before receiving treatment.
Loafers Lodge advertises itself as an affordable place for people to stay while they are in the capital, whether on business or needing to visit the nearby Wellington Hospital. It has 92 rooms and promotes it as long term availability.
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