10 killed in fire at Brazil hotel turned homeless shelter

Firefighters work at the site where a homeless shelter caught fire, killing at least 10 people, in Porto Alegre, Brazil (SILVIO AVILA)
Firefighters work at the site where a homeless shelter caught fire, killing at least 10 people, in Porto Alegre, Brazil (SILVIO AVILA)

At least 10 people were killed Friday in a fire that broke out in a defunct hotel being used as a makeshift homeless shelter in the city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, officials said.

Health authorities said at least 13 others were injured in the fire and taken to local hospitals, several in critical condition.

The shelter did not have an operating permit or fire prevention plan, said the fire department for Rio Grande do Sul state, whose capital is Porto Alegre.

"It happened very fast. People yelled 'fire!' When I saw it, it was already two doors from mine. I ran out as fast as I could, because there was already a lot of smoke," an unidentified resident of the building told news site G1.

The fire broke out around 2:00 am (0500 GMT), officials said. It took firefighters around three hours to bring it under control.

"Forensic experts are at the scene to identify the victims and investigate the cause," the fire department said in a statement.

An AFP photographer on site early Friday saw firefighters still at work around the badly charred, partly destroyed three-story building.

Images in Brazilian media from overnight showed the building engulfed in flames as firefighters battled to extinguish them.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sent his condolences to the victims' families, saying the tragedy left him "saddened," in a message on X, formerly Twitter.

- 'Tragedy foretold' -

Porto Alegre Mayor Sebastiao Melo declared three days of official mourning in the city.

State Governor Eduardo Leite said he was "deeply shocked" by the disaster.

"We will continue working on the aftermath of this tragedy and the investigation of the causes," he wrote on X, saying the fire department had dispatched five trucks and dozens of firefighters to the scene.

State lawmaker Matheus Gomes accused the city government of giving funds to the homeless shelter even though it had faced reports of non-compliance with regulations "for years."

"There needs to be an investigation not only into the fire, but the entire chronicle of this tragedy foretold," he wrote on X.

The building belongs to a network of budget youth hostel-style hotels in Porto Alegre.

The deadly fire comes 11 years after another in Rio Grande do Sul state.

In 2013, 242 people were killed at the Kiss nightclub in the town of Santa Maria when sparks from a flare lit by a band during a concert ignited the ceiling, trapping hundreds inside as the building burned.

Investigators found the club lacked working fire extinguishers and had insufficient exits. Four people were found responsible and sentenced to prison terms of 18 to 22 years.