WALLINGTON (Reuters) – A fire ripped through a four-storey motel in the New Zealand capital in the early hours of Tuesday, killing at least six people, with others fleeing for their lives and some pulled from the roof.
Towering flames and thick smoke were seen pouring from the upstairs windows of the Loafers Lodge in central Wellington during the night, as 80 firefighters and 20 trucks were battling the blaze.
Emergency services said several people died in the 92-room hostel and 52 people were rescued.
Premier Chris Hepkins said the death toll was at least six and the city’s mayor said the number could be much higher.
The deputy national fire and emergency commander said firefighters used a ladder cart to rescue people trapped on the roof Brendan Nally.
“They pulled quite a few people off the roof from an area directly above the fire,” Nally told Radio New Zealand.
“There was no other way. These people were going to die, except for our team’s intervention. Many people are walking around because of it.”
Nali said there were no machine guns in the hostel.
He later told local media that 11 people were unaccounted for but that number was expected to decrease “a little”.
A resident of the lodge, Tala Seely, said smoke was billowing under his door before he decided to jump onto the roof two floors below.
“I was upstairs and couldn’t get through the hallway because there was so 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 I would burn inside the building.”
Paramedics rescued him from the roof.
Another survivor, who was identified only as Chris, told public broadcaster TVNZ that he crawled out of his room to escape the thick smoke.
He said, “It was just getting to the stairs. It was black like smoke. It was hard to breathe. Everything was gone. My room was shattered. I grabbed my vibe and my phone instead of my shoes.”
Several residents said the building’s smoke alarm went off so often that they suspected it was an emergency.
The fire service said about 90 people were believed to have been in the building when the fire started.
The prime minister described the fire as an “utter tragedy”.
Asked about the death toll, Hipkins said: “I understand six have been confirmed before, but it seems likely there could be more.”
He said the final death toll would not be known until emergency services returned the remains of those killed.
The New Zealand leader added that many shift workers are staying at the hostel, making it difficult to know how many people are in the building.
Wellington Mayor Torrey family She said she expected the death toll to be “much more” than six, calling it “absolutely staggering”.
She said the lodge was home to a mix of long-term and short-term residents, including some on low incomes or residents of New Zealand on a “transitional” basis.
“For our Wellington community, it feels like a dark day,” she said in a television interview.
Loafers Lodge advertises itself as a ‘convenient and affordable’ option offering laundry and kitchen facilities as well as security, with lock on each floor.
The city’s ambulance service said six people were taken to hospital, one of them seriously.
An additional 15 people were treated at the scene.
A police spokesman had said earlier that the final death toll was expected to be “less than 10”.
New Zealand’s prime minister praised the “incredible effort” of firefighters to put out the flames and evacuate people.
“I acknowledge the victims and their families – it’s a very tragic set of circumstances,” Hipkins said.
He promised a “comprehensive review” of the disaster.
“There will be an opportunity to test whether this building is fully compliant with all the rules that it needs to be compliant but obviously the focus at the moment is to support our firefighters,” Hipkins said.
He indicated that a drone was flying over the scene of the accident to collect evidence.
Police said the fire was “unexplained” and that they would work with the fire services to determine the cause.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had spoken to Hipkins and offered his country’s help, calling it an “appalling human tragedy”.


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