Officials in Taiwan say the death toll from a major fire at a residential tower block has soared to 46, with many others injured.
Flames engulfed the 13-storey building in southern Taiwan’s Kaohsiung city in the small hours of Thursday morning.
The “extremely fierce” fire erupted at about 3am and spread across many floors of the building, fire department officials from Kaohsiung said.
Images broadcast by Taiwanese TV stations showed huge orange flames and clouds of black smoke billowing from the lower floors of the building, with heavy firefighting operations being carried out from the street.
Locals said they heard a loud explosion in the middle of the night and woke up to see the building on fire.
From the blaze, 32 bodies were taken directly to the morgue, officials said. At least 14 of the total killed in the fire did not show any vital signs when firefighters first found them, fire bureau chief Lee Ching-hsiu said earlier, according to a local report. At the time it was expected that the toll would rise further as more bodies were recovered from the ruined building.
Later on Thursday, officials said a final rescue and search operation for the day would be carried out before sunset.
The cause of the fire, which is believed to have started on the first floor of the building, has not yet been confirmed. However, the firefighters spotted flames burning intensely at a spot with a large amount of piled-up clutter, indicating that it could be the likely source of blaze.
After the first emergency call was received at 2.54am at the Kaohsiung city fire bureau, a total of 159 firefighters rushed to the scene.
The blaze was brought under control by 7.17am, officials said, but not before it destroyed much of the building, covering lower floors in black soot.
The 40-year-old building served as a commercial and residential space, housing shops on the lower floors and apartments on the ones above. There are almost 120 housing units between the seventh and 11th floors.
The city’s mayor, Chen Chi-mai, said the building — previously containing restaurants, karaoke lounges and a cinema — was partly abandoned.