NEW ZEALAND: At least six people were killed in a hostel fire in New Zealand on Tuesday, and officials stated that they believe the number may grow with 11 individuals still missing.
Police said that the fire started soon after midnight on the top floor of Loafers Lodge in the Wellington neighbourhood of Newtown, causing significant structural damage that is impeding recovery efforts.
“Although there is a sizable amount of debris from the roof fall, we have so far found six people,” said the incident commander from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), at a news conference.
Emergency services were investigating the event as suspicious, even though the source of the fire remains unknown. “This is a once-in-a-decade fire for Wellington. It’s the worst nightmare for us,” stated FENZ Wellington District Commander.
“This is a tragic event for all involved. My heartfelt condolences go to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives,” he added.
The hostel offered lodging to a variety of people, including those who were serving community sentences for minor offences, hospital employees, and construction workers.
A tenant at Loafers Lodge said he observed smoke flowing under his door and opened it to discover a smoke-filled hallway. He made the decision to leap from the window onto a roof two stories below.
“It was terrifying, but I knew I had to leap out the window in order to avoid burning to death inside the structure,” he told state-run Radio New Zealand.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) says investigations into the fire’s origin are ongoing. The police stated they wouldn’t have any further information until the 92-room structure was safe to enter.
The interim district commander of police for the Wellington neighbourhood where the fire started, stated that the force was operating under the assumption that fewer than 10 people had perished but that further occupants of the building were still missing.
“A list of everyone present yesterday night who should have been here or who was here as a visitor has not yet been properly reconciled,” he continued.
Chris Hipkins, the prime minister, visited the location and met with emergency personnel. After the visit, Hipkins spoke to the media and stated, “It is an absolute tragedy and a horrific situation.”
“Investigations into what occurred and why it occurred will, of course, take place in due order, but for the time being, the emphasis must be on handling the current crisis,” he added.