HONG KONG: Hong Kong authorities said a fire at an apartment building in a crowded residential district has killed at least seven people and injured another 11.
The blaze occurred on Sunday night (Nov 15) in Yau Ma Tei, a usually bustling area in Kowloon packed with old apartment blocks, shops and businesses.
The apartment where the fire started may have been operating as an unlicensed restaurant, according to the area's district council member Leslie Chan. who added that the victims were from the Nepalese community.
Fire officials said at a news conference early Monday that the cause of the blaze was still unknown. The building lacked a sprinkler system and people were trapped in the back of the kitchen, according to fire services department officer Cheung Kwong-yuen.
Local media reports said that people in the restaurant were celebrating Deepavali as well as a birthday when the blaze occurred. Lit candles had set soundproofing materials on fire, according to the media reports.
The Hong Kong government said those who died were four men and three women, with the ages of those killed and injured given as between 8 and 48.
The South China Morning Post newspaper said that this was the deadliest blaze since a 2011 fire that killed nine people. The paper reported that seven of those hospitalised were in critical condition.
Video from local broadcaster TVB showed people on stretchers and in ambulances.
The apartment in the low-rise building where the fire broke out had some of its windows blown out and exterior walls were charred with soot. The building was cordoned off Monday while police stood guard.
Chan said the district council is providing assistance to those evacuated from the building and some will need to stay temporarily in hostels while the fire is investigated.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam issued a statement shortly after midnight saying that she was "deeply saddened that the fire in Yau Ma Tei last night caused a number of deaths and injuries". She also visited the site of the fire on Monday morning.
The incident highlights fire safety issues in older buildings in Hong Kong, some of which are not adequately outfitted with appropriate fire safety management systems.
Deadly fires used to be a regular occurrence in Hong Kong, one of the world's most densely populated cities, but have dwindled in recent years as the government implemented stricter fire safety measures.