WELLINGTON, May 16 (Reuters) – A fire at a New Zealand hostel on Tuesday killed six people and left 11 people missing, authorities said, adding that authorities believe the death toll could rise.
A fire broke out on the top floor of Loafers Lodge in Newtown’s Wellington neighborhood just after midnight, causing major structural damage and hampering rescue efforts.
“There is a significant amount of debris from the roof collapse, but at this stage we have located six people,” Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) incident commander Bruce Stubbs told a news conference.
The cause of the fire is unknown, but emergency services are treating the incident as suspicious.
“This is a once-in-a-decade fire for Wellington. It’s our worst nightmare,” FENZ Wellington District Commander Nick Piatt said in a statement.
“This is a tragic event for all involved. My heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of the victims.”
The hostel provided accommodation to construction workers, hospital staff and those serving sentences for petty crimes in the community.
Tala Chili, who lives in Loafers Lodge, said she saw smoke coming from under her door and opened it to find smoke filling the hallway. He decided to jump out of the window onto the roof two floors below.
“It was very scary, it was very scary, but I knew I had to jump through the window or burn into the building,” he told state-owned Radio New Zealand.
According to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), the cause of the fire is under investigation.
Police said they will not have any information until the 92-room building is safely entered.
Dianne Bennett, acting police chief for the Wellington area where the fire broke out, said the force was working under the presumption that fewer than 10 people had died, but that others had yet to be found in the building.
“We still haven’t fully adjusted the list of who was here last night or who was here,” he said.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the scene and spoke to emergency service providers.
“It’s an absolute tragedy and it’s a terrible situation,” Hipkins told the media after the visit.
“In the fullness of time, there will be many inquiries into what happened and why, but for now, the focus should be on dealing with the situation.”
Reporting by Lucy Cramer; Editing by Aurora Ellis
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