At least six dead in New Zealand hotel fire

WELLINGTON: A fire engulfed a four-storey hostel in New Zealand’s capital in the early hours of Tuesday, killing at least six people as others fled for their lives, some torn from the roof.
Towering flames and thick smoke could be seen billowing from the top-floor windows of the Loafers Lodge hostel in central Wellington overnight, as 80 firefighters and 20 trucks battled the blaze.
Emergency services said several 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 town’s mayor said the number could be significantly higher.
Firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue people trapped on the roof, deputy national fire and emergency commander said Brendan Nally.
“They pulled quite a few people off the top of the roof from an area directly over the fire,” Nally told Radio New Zealand.
“There was no other way. These people were going to perish except for our team to intervene. Several people are walking around because of this.”
There were no sprinklers in the hostel, Nally said.
Eleven people were missing but that number was expected to drop “a bit”, he later told local media.
One of the hostel’s residents, Tala Sili, said smoke billowed under his door before he decided to jump to a roof two stories below.
“I was on the top floor and couldn’t cross the hallway because there was too much smoke, so I jumped out the window,” he told RNZ.
“It was just scary, it was really scary, but I knew I had to jump out the window or just burn inside the building.”
Paramedics rescued him from the roof.
Another survivor, who only gave his name as Chris, told public broadcaster TVNZ he crawled out of his room to escape through heavy smoke.
“He was just coming to the stairwell. It was black as smoke. It was hard to breathe. Everything disappeared. My room is fucked up. I grabbed my vape and my phone instead of my shoes “, did he declare.
Several residents said the building’s smoke alarm had gone off so often that they doubted it was an emergency.
Around 90 people are believed to have been in the building when the blaze started, firefighters said.
The Prime Minister called the fire an “absolute tragedy”.
Asked about the death toll, Hipkins said: “I understand that six have been confirmed previously, but it looks like there are probably more.”
The final toll will not be known until emergency services recover the remains of those killed, he said.
The New Zealand leader added that many shift workers were staying at the hostel, which made it difficult to know how many people were in the building.
Mayor of Wellington Tory Whanau said she expected the toll to be “much more” than six, describing it as “absolutely staggering”.
The hostel was home to a mix of long and short-term residents, she said, some of whom were on low incomes or staying in New Zealand on a “transitional” basis.
“For our community in Wellington, it feels like a dark day,” she told a TV 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 of them in serious condition, the city’s ambulance service said.
Fifteen other people were treated at the scene.
A police spokesman had earlier said the final toll was expected to be “less than 10”.
The New Zealand Prime Minister praised the “incredible effort” of firefighters to extinguish the fire and evacuate residents.
“I recognize the victims and their families – an absolutely tragic set of circumstances,” Hipkins said.
He promised a “thorough examination” of the disaster.
“There will be an opportunity to test whether this building was fully compliant with all the rules it was required to comply with, but obviously the focus right now is on supporting our firefighters,” Hipkins said.
He noted that a drone was hovering over the scene to collect evidence.
Police said the fire was “unexplained” and they would work with the fire service to determine the cause.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had spoken to Hipkins and offered his country’s help, describing it as an “appalling human tragedy”.


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