At least seven people including a nine-year-old child were killed and several others critically injured in Hong Kong on Sunday night after a fire broke out in a flat suspected to be an unlicensed restaurant.
Authorities said four men and three women, aged nine to 40, died after the blaze ripped through the apartment in a tenement building near the junction of Canton Road and Saigon Street in Yau Ma Tei.
Three men and four women were listed as being in a critical condition in hospital. Two others were in a serious condition. One person was stable in hospital and another was discharged.
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The fire was the deadliest in Hong Kong in almost a decade.
According to a police source, the flat was being used as a Nepalese restaurant at which a birthday party was being held. Lit candles were thought to have set soundproofing material on fire.
Most of the casualties were Nepalese, the insider said.
A Fire Services Department official told a press briefing in the early hours of Monday there had been a gathering inside the flat, while a police spokesman said they were investigating whether the premises was an unlicensed restaurant.
FSD division officer Cheung Kwong-yuen said the building did not have any fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers. He said the flat was an open unit of about 800 sq ft, and firefighters had found lots of dining tables inside, with people trapped in the back of the kitchen.
Cheung said the cause of the fire was still unknown.
The tragedy had unfolded at about 8.35pm when a man was seen climbing from a window of the Canton Road flat, located on one of the building’s lower floors.
The flat was engulfed in flames. Firefighters brought the blaze under control in about half an hour but it was not until 10.41pm that it was finally put out.
Paramedics rushed 18 people to four hospitals.
The injured were taken to Kwong Wah and Queen Elizabeth hospitals in Yau Ma Tei, Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, and Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung.
Others in less serious condition were also helped out of the building. Their faces and clothes were smeared with soot.
Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said she was deeply saddened by the tragedy. Lam said she had told relevant departments to do their best to help the survivors and find out the cause of the fire.
In 2011, nine people were killed and 34 injured in a fire that ripped through Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok. It was the deadliest blaze in the city in 15 years.
Additional reporting by Rachel Yeo