Taiwan on Friday faced the effects of a massive fire that destroyed a building in the southern city of Kaohsiung, killing 46 people and injuring dozens in the island’s deadliest fire in decades.
Hell erupted in the 13-story mixed-use building in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, according to officials, erupting across multiple floors before firefighters were finally able to control it.
Pictures released by Taiwan’s official Central News Agency showed that during the height of the fire, the entire building caught fire.
Pictures showed smoke billowing from the windows of the edifice as firefighters desperately tried to put out the flames using extendable hoses.
Responders also used aerial work platforms to conduct search and rescue operations for residents, many of whom were reported to be elderly or suffering from dementia or physical disabilities.
The Kaohsiung Fire Department said it has sent more than 70 trucks to tackle the fire, which took four hours to put out.
As the daylight approached, the scale of the massive destruction became apparent, as blackness appeared on every floor of the building and most of its windows were shattered.
The fire department said the fire “caused 41 injuries and 46 deaths,” and officials added that most of the deaths occurred on the seventh to eleventh floors, which include apartments and were devoured by smoke.
The first five floors were for commercial use but were not occupied.
Residents reported hearing a number of loud noises when the fire first broke out in basements. An unidentified man who lives in the building told Formosa TV: “I heard a lot of loud explosions – ‘thunder, thump, thump’ – on the ground floor and went down to investigate.”
“That’s when I realized there was a fire and called the police,” he added.
“When I opened the door to get out, the hallway was filled with black smoke,” said an unnamed survivor, describing the scene on her floor.
As night fell on Thursday, police announced that emergency services had finished searching the building and no more victims had been found.
A policeman with the Kaohsiung police told AFP that the building is 40 years old and is mostly inhabited by low-income residents.
The policeman added that survivors estimated that about 100 people lived in the apartment building, only mentioning his surname Liu.
He added that officials have not yet ruled out arson.
Most of the residents were in bed when the fire started, and many of those who lived in the building were elderly people with dementia or physical disabilities, according to the CNA news agency, Kaohsiung Fire Chief Lee Ching-hsiu said.
The mayor of Kaohsiung reportedly said that a working group will be formed to study the city’s management of the building and other ancient structures.
The fire appears to be the deadliest in Taiwan in years. The last equally significant fire was in 1995, when 64 people died inside a packed karaoke club.
As an island frequently hit by earthquakes and typhoons, Taiwan has strict building codes and an overall good safety record.
But there is often a gap between what the rules say and how safety standards are enforced, especially in older buildings.
Some of the highest death tolls in recent earthquakes have occurred when older buildings have collapsed, with subsequent investigations sometimes showing that their designs weren’t matching the code.