- By Antoinette Radford and Derek Cai
- BBC News
At least six people have died and others are unaccounted for in a hostel fire, New Zealand’s prime minister told local media.
Emergency services were called to the four-storey Loafers Lodge Inn in Wellington just after midnight local time (12:30 GMT on Monday).
More than 50 people were rescued from the building, but 11 remain unaccounted for, police said.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has warned that the death toll is likely to rise further.
Police added that they could not be more precise about the death toll until they entered the building.
Firefighters arrived at the scene and found the upper floor of the building engulfed in flames. At least 20 fire engines were dispatched to douse it by 04:00 hrs.
District Fire and Emergency Commander Nick Piatt described the fire as Wellington’s “worst nightmare”.
He said the building contained asbestos and urged locals to wear masks and close windows to avoid inhaling the fumes. The New Zealand Herald reported.
“This is a tragic event for all concerned. My heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of the deceased,” he said.
Authorities rescued at least five people from the roof of the burning building, while one was seriously injured after jumping from the building’s third floor to escape the flames, local media reported.
“Two of my mates have made it, but I don’t know the way to look for the other four people I know there,” former Loafers resident Mark Lilly told AFP in comments.
Loafers Lodge Hostel has a total of 92 rooms and caters to both short-term and long-term guests.
It was designated as an emergency accommodation provider by New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development in 2011. Official figures show that more than 3,300 families are currently living in emergency housing as of February.
According to local media reports, loafer customers range from shift workers such as nurses and hospital staff to the unemployed and homeless.
Many residents are deportees from Australia, and some are still unaccounted for.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but police are reportedly investigating whether it was set on purpose.
Speaking to local media, Mr Hipkins called the fire an “absolute tragedy” and paid tribute to local firefighters who had “taken the last few hours to get people out of the building and put out the fire”.