Taiwan Fire

Firefighters battle a building fire in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan on Thursday.

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan • At least 46 people were killed and 41 injured after a fire broke out early Thursday in a run-down mixed commercial and residential building in the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung, officials said.

Neighborhood residents said the 13-story building was home to many poor, elderly and disabled people and it wasn’t clear how many of the 120 units were occupied.

Witnesses said they heard something that sounded like an explosion at about 3 a.m. when the blaze erupted in the building’s lower floors, which housed a closed movie theater, abandoned restaurants and karaoke clubs.

Tsai Hsiu-Chin, 70, had lived in the building for 15 years. At 3 a.m., she heard someone screaming “fire.” She said she took the elevator down, escaping with just the clothing on her back.

“I didn’t bring anything. I just cared about saving my life,” she said, sitting opposite the charred building on Thursday night, trying to process her experience over a beer with a friend.

Across the street, Lin Chie-ying said she was awoken in her home by the sound of ambulances and fire trucks. “I thought our home would burn up too,” she said.

It took firefighters until after 7 a.m. to extinguish the blaze. Many of the upper floors appeared not to have been damaged directly. However, the smoke was thick enough to have killed and injured the several dozens living above the fire.

Throughout Thursday, first responders pored through the wreckage and recovered dozens of bodies. Another 14 of 55 taken initially to the hospital were confirmed dead on arrival or shortly after.

The building’s age and piles of debris blocking access to many areas complicated search and rescue efforts, officials said, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.

Later in the day, the smell of smoke still lingered and the sound of shattering glass rang throughout the area. Construction workers were raised on a crane to break out the remaining glass from window frames with a crowbar, and waited to put up scaffolding to prevent the building from being a further hazard.

Scattered crowds of people gathered across the street. Curious onlookers drove by on their scooters and paused to look at the damage.

The decades-old apartment building is one of many in the Yancheng district, an older part of Kaohsiung, a city of about 2.8 million people in southwestern Taiwan.

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