New Zealand hostel fire: At least six killed in Wellington

Number of deaths are expected to rise, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says

Damage to the Loafers Lodge hostel building in Wellington, New Zealand. AFP
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At least six people have been killed after a fire ripped through a hostel in New Zealand’s capital overnight, as others fled the four-storey building in their pyjamas.

A fire chief on Tuesday called the disaster his “worst nightmare".

Firefighters were still looking for residents in the Loafers Lodge hostel in Wellington after accounting for 52 people, Wellington fire and emergency district manager Nick Pyatt said.

Mr Pyatt said firefighters were called to the hostel at about 12.30am.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told the AM morning news programme that he understood six people were confirmed dead and that the number would probably rise.

Police said they did not have an exact count of those who died, although they believe it was fewer than 10.

Mr Hipkins said he was planning to visit the site on Tuesday morning.

He said the building was not safe for police to enter and it could take authorities some time to confirm the number of dead.

“It is an absolute tragedy. It is a horrific situation,” Mr Hipkins told reporters.

“In the fullness of time, of course, there will be a number of investigations about what has happened and why it happened. But for now, the focus clearly has to be on dealing with the situation.”

Firefighters at the Loafers Lodge hostel building in Wellington, New Zealand, on May 16. AFP

Emergency officials said the building had no fire sprinklers.

Mr Hipkins said it was not a requirement of New Zealand's building code for older buildings to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems.

Mr Pyatt said his thoughts were with the families of those who had died and with the crews who had rescued those they could and tried to rescue those they couldn’t.

“This is our worst nightmare," he said. “It doesn’t get worse than this.”

Police said the cause of the fire was not immediately known,

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said city officials were helping about 50 people who escaped the fire and were at an emergency centre that the municipality set up at a local running track and clubrooms.

Mr MacLean said elderly people had escaped the building with only the pyjamas they were wearing.

“A lot are clearly shaken and bewildered about what happened,” he said.

The hostel provided short and long-term rentals, Mr MacLean said.

He said he did not have all of the details but he believed it was used by various government agencies to provide clients with needed accommodation.

Loafers Lodge advertises itself as an affordable place for people to stay while they are in the capital, whether on business or needing to visit the nearby Wellington Hospital. It has 92 rooms.

Updated: May 18, 2023, 3:56 PM