Wellington, May 16, 2023
A raging fire at the Loafers Lodge Hostel located in Adelaide Road, Newtown has claimed at least ten lives so far, injuring many others.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who visited the scene of the incident, said that the number of fatalities could rise after firefighters are able to gain access to the building.
It is understood that the fire broke out at 12.25 am in the 92-room hostel occupying three floors and that the Fire Services now has a full register of the people living at the facility.
Mr Hipkins that New Zealanders woke up to the tragic news of the events that have been unfolding in the Wellington region as a result of a fatal fire.
“I want to extend my condolences to those who have lost their lives and their families. I also want to, on behalf of the whole country, extend our support to the first responders who are on the scene, particularly our firefighters, our police, our ambulance services and others who are working to secure the situation, to get people out of the building, and to deal with the aftermath of this fire,” he said.
Investigation to follow
Mr Hipkins was speaking to the media after visiting the accident site.
“It is an absolute tragedy and it is a horrific situation. 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 needs to be on dealing with the situation,” he said.
According to available information, 52 people were taken out of the building and at least five were rescued from the roof but there are many others who remain unaccounted.
Mr Hipkins said that the Wellington City Council inspects buildings of this nature.
“I understand that there was a recent building inspection but that is probably a question better addressed to the Council for up-to-date information. There could be a large number of such buildings without a sprinkler system. The building code does not require the retrofitting of sprinkler systems into existing older buildings, so there will be a number of buildings that fall into that category.
“For older buildings, there are fewer requirements than for newer buildings. People who have apartments and so on and older buildings that have been there for a long time, there may not be sprinklers required in those buildings,” he said.
According to Mr Hipkins, among the occupants of the hostel are clients of the Ministry of Social Development and shift workers.
Emergency Services active
“The building is not currently being used as emergency housing; It is too early to talk about a government review of the regulations. Let them get the fire out, let us get an understanding of the nature of what we are dealing with,” he said.
Mr Hipkins said that some information is being put out by the National Emergency Management Agency and that Fire and Emergency has pooled its resources from across the region to deal with the situation.
“I want to acknowledge that this would have been an incredibly traumatic event to respond to for our first responders. These are people who put themselves in harm on behalf of all of us on a regular basis. I know that the whole country would be grateful to them for their efforts and will be very supportive of their actions,” he said.
Housing Minister Megan Woods said that officials have told her that the building passed an inspection early this year.
“My understanding is that there has been a standalone fire with a standalone alarm system and the requirements were all being me,” she said.
Dr Woods said that while it was thought to be up to code, Wellington City Council is the regulator and the Ministry of Business, Investment and Employment is in contact with them.
It is far too early to say whether any regulations needed to change, she said.
Adelaide Road straddles the electorate boundary between Wellington Central and Rongotai.
Rongotai MP Paul Eagle learnt of the fire this morning.
“I knew then it would probably be Loafers Lodge, so I got to the site reasonably early, the Police and Fire Service were at that point taking people off the top of the building making sure people were safe, getting as many people out as possible. I am personally shocked. I have been there several times,” he said.
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