Hong Kong (AP) – Authorities in Hong Kong said a fire in an apartment building killed at least seven people and injured 11, which probably began when people from the city’s Nepali community gathered.
The explosion occurred on Sunday night in Yao Ma Tei, a bustling area in Kowloon, usually with old apartment blocks, shops and businesses.
According to the area’s district council member, Leslie Chan, the apartment that caught fire was operating as an unlicensed restaurant.
The Hong Kong government said that four men and three women were among those who died, the ages of those killed and injured were stated to be between 8 and 48. Chan said the dead and injured belonged to the Nepali community.
Fire officials said at a press conference early Monday that the cause of the explosion was still unknown. According to fire department official Cheung Kwong-un, the building lacked a sprinkler system and people were trapped behind the kitchen.
Local media reports said that people were celebrating Diwali at the restaurant, a Hindu festival, as well as a birthday when the explosion occurred. According to media reports, lit candles set fire to soundproof materials.
Residents in the neighborhood said those caught in the fire were from Nepal. Many live in the Nepalese region and work in Hong Kong’s finance, retail and security businesses.
In the low-rise building, the apartment where the fire was set, some of its windows were blown and the outer walls were soothed. The building was cordoned off on Monday while police were on watch.
Chan said the district council is providing assistance to those evacuated from the building and some need to stay in hostels temporarily while the fire is investigated.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam issued a statement shortly after midnight, saying she was “very sad that the fire in Yao Ma Ti last night resulted in many deaths and injuries.” He also visited the site of the fire on Monday morning.
Local media said the fire was the deadliest after the 2011 blasts in which nine people were killed.
The incident highlights fire safety issues in the city’s old buildings, home to some of the world’s most expensive real estate. Fatal fires used to be a regular occurrence in Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, but has declined in recent years as the government has implemented strict fire safety measures.
The story has been corrected to show that the victims were aged between 8 and 48, not 8 and 38. And to show that 11 people were injured in the fire, not 12.