It was one of the deadliest apartment building fires in twenty years worldwide. In Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan, forty-six people were killed and 41 others were injured in a fire that broke out in a building in the city on Thursday. The fire broke out in the 13-story building in the wee hours of the day, authorities said. It devastated several floors of the building, transformed into a huge blaze, before the firefighters managed to control it.
Photos released by Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency showed smoke billowing from the building’s windows as firefighters desperately tried to put out the flames.
Four hours to put out the fire
Once the day broke, the extent of the disaster appeared in its full magnitude, with the facade of the building blackened to its full height and most of the windows smashed. Most of the victims were between the seventh and eleventh floors, which housed apartments, according to firefighters. The first five floors, intended for commercial use, were unoccupied. City firefighters dispatched more than 70 trucks to tackle the blaze, which they took four hours to put out.
Residents said they heard loud noises on the lower floors where the fire started. “I heard a lot of loud bangs, bang, bang, bang, downstairs and went downstairs to see what was going on,” a resident of the building told Formosa TV. the name was not specified. “It was then that I realized there was a fire and called the police,” he added. Another survivor described her grueling escape: “When I opened the door to exit, the hallway was filled with black smoke,” she said.
The theory of an arson not excluded
At nightfall Thursday, the police announced that the rescue services had ended the search in the building, without having discovered any new victims. A Kaohsiung police officer said the building is 40 years old and mostly occupied by low-income residents. Survivors estimated that around 100 people lived in the building according to the police officer. Authorities have yet to rule out the possibility of arson, he added.
This fire has been one of the deadliest in Taiwan for several decades. The last one with a death toll of a similar magnitude dates back to 1995, when 64 people died in a crowded karaoke club. It was also one of the deadliest apartment building fires in twenty years worldwide.
A gap between safety standards and manufacturing
Frequently hit by earthquakes and typhoons, Taiwan has strict building codes, but there is often a gap between these safety standards and the way they are enforced, especially in older buildings. Some of the heaviest tolls in recent earthquakes have come from the collapse of old buildings, which were not designed up to standard.
Earlier this year, 49 people were killed when a train slammed into a truck that had slipped on the tracks, in the island’s worst rail disaster in decades. Subsequent investigations revealed that government agencies had ignored warnings about the possibility of such an accident on this particular stretch of mountainside.