At least six killed in New Zealand hostel fire


Published: 2023-05-16 10:53

Last Updated: 2024-07-14 03:18

At least six killed in New Zealand hostel fire
At least six killed in New Zealand hostel fire

At least six people were killed in a fire that tore through a four-storey hostel in the early hours of Tuesday in New Zealand's capital, with several others plucked from a rooftop to safety.

Towering flames and thick smoke could be seen pouring from the top-floor windows of the Loafers Lodge hostel in central Wellington during the night, as 80 firefighters and 20 trucks battled the blaze.

Emergency services said multiple people had died in the 92-room hostel and 52 people had been rescued.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the death toll was at least six and the city's mayor said it could be significantly higher.

Firefighters used a ladder truck to save people trapped on the roof, said Fire and Emergency deputy national commander Brendan Nally.

"They plucked quite a few people off the top of the roof from an area directly above the fire," Nally told Radio New Zealand.

"There was no other way. Those people were going to perish, except for the intervention of our team. Multiple people are walking around because of it."

There were no sprinklers in the hostel, Nally said.

Eleven people were still unaccounted for but that number is expected to fall "a little", he later told local media.

- 'Hard to breathe' -

One of the hostel residents, who gave his name only as Chris, told public broadcaster TVNZ that he crawled out of his room to escape through dense smoke.

"It was just getting to the stairwell. It was black as, thick as smoke. It was hard to breathe. Everything's gone. My room's thrashed. I grabbed my vape and my phone instead of my shoes," he said.

A second-floor resident, Tamrat Isse Adan, said he was enveloped by darkness when he escaped.

"When I came from the toilet there was smelling everywhere, smoke ... people running everywhere," he told the Stuff news outlet.

"I just jumped to my room, and I take my jacket and my mobile, that's it."

Adan said the smoke alarm went off so frequently in the hostel that he did not realize it was a fire.

About 90 people were thought to have been in the building when the blaze began, fire services said.

The prime minister described the fire as "an absolute tragedy".

Asked about the number of dead, Hipkins said: "I understand six confirmed previously, but it looks like there were likely to be more."

The final toll would not be known until emergency services had recovered remains of those killed, he said.

The New Zealand leader added that many shift workers were staying in the hostel, making it difficult to know how many people were in the building at the time of the fire.

Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau said she expected the toll to be "a lot more" than six, describing it as "absolutely staggering".

The hostel was home to a mix of long and short-term residents, she said, including some on lower incomes or staying in New Zealand on a "transitional" basis.

- 'Dark day' -

"For our Wellington community, it does feel like a dark day," she told a television interviewer.

The Loafers Lodge advertises itself as a "convenient and affordable" option offering laundry and kitchen facilities as well as security, with a lock on each floor.

Six people were taken to hospital, one in serious condition, the city's ambulance service said.

An additional 15 people were treated at the scene.

A police spokesperson had earlier said the final death toll was expected to be "fewer than 10".

The New Zealand prime minister praised the "incredible effort" of firefighters to extinguish the blaze and evacuate people.

"I acknowledge the victims and their families -- an absolutely tragic set of circumstances, a tragic situation," Hipkins said.

He promised a "thorough review" of the disaster.

"There will be an opportunity to test whether this building was fully compliant with all of the rules that it needed to be compliant with but obviously the focus at the moment is supporting our firefighters," Hipkins said.

He noted that a drone was flying over the scene to gather evidence.

Police said the cause of the fire was "unexplained" and they would be working with the fire services to determine the cause.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had spoken to Hipkins and offered his country's assistance, describing it as a "dreadful human tragedy".