Watch: Taiwan tower block fire kills at least 46
At least 46 people were killed and dozens injured in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung on Thursday after an “extremely fierce” fire ripped through a residential building as people slept.
The blaze broke out in the 13-storey, mixed-use building in the small hours of Thursday morning, according to officials, raging through multiple floors before firefighters finally got it under control.
"The fire caused 41 injuries and 46 deaths," Kaohsiung's fire department said in a statement to reporters.
The fire broke out at around 3 am on the first floor of the building and rose to the sixth floor, filling the seventh floor and above with smoke, which caused most casualties, Lee Ching-hsiu, the fire chief said.
Most of the deaths were on floors seven to eleven which housed residential apartments, fire officials said. The first five floors were for commercial use but were unoccupied.
Many of the residents in the block of about 120 apartments were reported to be senior citizens who suffered from dementia or physical disabilities.
Video shown on Taiwanese television showed orange flames and smoke billowing out of the lower floors of the building as firefighters sprayed water at it from the street. One woman, who was not identified, said her 60-to-70-year-old parents were inside.
One resident named only as Mr Mao, said he was woken up by his neighbour on the ninth floor, prompting him to make a dash for safety.
He said he was blocked by the raging fire on the first floor but managed to escape through the basement. Other residents reportedly headed to the roof to await rescue.
The cause of the fire was unclear, but firefighters noted the flames burned most intensely where a lot of clutter had been piled up, the fire department statement said.
Nearby residents told local media they heard a loud bang that sounded like an explosion at about 3am before the fire was spotted.
"The power lines may have been outside... these past few days there have been 'boom' sounds from the power [lines]," one resident told Reuters.
The city's mayor, Chen Chi-mai, said the building was partly abandoned, having previously been host to restaurants, karaoke lounges and a cinema. The building is about 40 years old with shops on the lower levels and apartments above. The lower floors were completely blackened.
Watch: Dozens killed in Southern Taiwan building fire
A local official revealed that many witnesses saw the fire first take hold on the first floor, where an antique shop was located, and where people often gathered to smoke and drink.
A taxi driver who lives on the ninth floor said that when he returned home around 2:50 am, he smelled burning plastic coming from an abandoned shop, which was filled with smoke.
Four witnesses have been summoned by the police to help with their investigation into the cause of the fire.
Additional reporting: Wen Xu