Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images
Damage is seen on a hostel building after a deadly fire in Wellington on May 16, 2023.
Authorities in New Zealand are still trying to determine how many people died in a fire that tore through a hostel in the capital Wellington overnight, killing at least six.
Fire crews were called to the Loafers Lodge hostel in the city center just after midnight local time and found the top floor of the four-storey building well alight, according to a statement from Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
As firefighters battled the blaze, 52 people were evacuated, but it is unclear how many people were inside at the time. Late Monday, members of the Urban Search and Rescue Squad were still determining whether the building was safe to search.
It is not clear what caused the fire.
Firefighters stand outside the hostel where a fire broke out overnight.
Tala Sili, who lived at the hostel, told CNN affiliate Radio NZ the experience was “really terrifying.”
He said he saw smoke coming from under his door on the top floor of the hostel and jumped two stories to the roof of a nearby building, where he was eventually rescued by paramedics and treated for a sprained ankle.
Local politician Paul Eagle told RNZ the transient nature of many of the building’s residents made it difficult for authorities to determine who may have been inside the building during the fire.
“It’s not unusual that they won’t know exactly who’s there at that exact moment because people can come and go all the time,” the Rongotai MP told RNZ. “It’s a simple place that’s a roof over their heads, simple accommodation.”
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Emergency services investigate the scene of a fire on May 16, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand.
According to Loafers Lodge’s website, the hostel offers 92 rooms with communal areas, kitchens and laundry facilities within walking distance of Wellington Hospital in Newtown.
Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson told reporters many residents had “lost absolutely everything they had.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the site on Tuesday and expressed his sympathy for the victims and their loved ones.
“We haven’t seen an event of this magnitude for quite some time,” he said.
A drone inspects damage after the fire at the four-story hostel in central Wellington, New Zealand.
A mayoral relief fund has been set up through the Wellington City Mission for those affected by the fire, Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau told reporters.
Most of the residents evacuated from the hostel were sent to safe accommodation where they were given food, shelter and warm blankets, Whanau said in a video shared on her Facebook page.
At a press conference, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had spoken to Hipkins and offered to help as needed.
“I expressed my condolences on behalf of Australia to our friends in New Zealand at this very difficult time,” Albanese told reporters in Melbourne. “Any assistance will of course, as always, be available from Australia to New Zealand.”