Six dead in a New Zealand lodge fire

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A New Zealand motel fire killed at least six people on Tuesday and officials said they believed the number could rise, with 11 people still missing.

Police said the fire broke out on the top floor of the Loafers Lodge in the Wellington neighborhood of Newtown just after midnight, causing significant structural damage that is hampering recovery efforts.

“There’s quite a bit of debris from the roof collapse, but at this point we’ve identified six people,” Bruce Stubbs, Incident Commander for Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) told a news conference.

The cause of the fire was not known, but emergency services treated the incident as suspicious.

“This is a once-in-a-decade fire in Wellington. It’s our worst nightmare,” Fens Wellington District Commissioner Nick Pyatt said in a statement.

“This is a tragic event for all involved. My heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of those who lost their lives.”

The lodge provides accommodation for people including construction workers, hospital staff, and those serving sentences in the community for minor offences.

Loafers Lodge resident Tala Seeley said he saw smoke coming from under his door and opened it to find the hallway filled with smoke. He decided to jump out of the window onto the bunk floor below.

“It was just scary, it was really scary, but I knew I had to jump out the window or I would burn inside the building,” he told state-owned Radio New Zealand.

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Investigations are underway to find out what caused the fire, according to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ).

Police said they will not have more information until it is safe to enter the 92-room building.

Dion Bennett, the acting police chief for the Wellington area where the fire started, said the force was operating under the assumption that fewer than 10 people were dead, but that others from the building were still missing.

“We still have to completely reconcile a list of all the people who were here last night who should be here or who were here as visitors,” he said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins visited the site and spoke with emergency service providers.

“It is an absolute tragedy and it is a horrible situation,” Hipkins told the media after the visit.

“Over time, of course there will be a number of investigations into what happened and why it happened but for now, the focus should be on dealing with the situation,” he added.

Lucy Kramer reports. Edited by Aurora Ellis

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