9 die in Hong Kong towering inferno

2011-11-30 10:04
Hong Kong - A fire believed to be the work of an arsonist engulfed a Hong Kong residential block and popular tourist market early on Wednesday, killing nine people and injuring 30, police said.

Ambulances rushed the injured to hospital as firefighters battled to put out the blaze, which started before dawn at a stall in the Ladies Market in the Mongkok area of Kowloon.

"Nine people died and 30 people have been sent to hospital for treatment so far," an emergency services spokesperson said, adding that five of the injured were in critical condition.

The narrow market street was a wall of flame and thick black smoke as the fire tore through the flimsy stalls and residential flats above, witnesses said.

Local television showed firemen pulling shaken survivors and body bags from rooftops, while badly burnt victims were wrapped in bandages and sent to hospital.

Charred bodies found

Residents fled in their pyjamas or called out to firemen from windows as the fire raged through the market below.

The blaze broke out at a street hawker's booth around 04:40 and quickly spread through the residential building, officials said.

Eight "charred bodies" were found at the site, the spokesperson said. Officials later increased the toll to nine.

The fire was believed to be the work of an arsonist, an official spokesperson said, adding however that investigations were ongoing.

A suspected arson attack destroyed dozens of stalls in the same market last year. Six people including a firefighter were injured in that incident.

A hotline was set up to help people search for missing or injured loved ones.

Residents live in cubicles

A local resident said the building where many of the victims lived had been subdivided into small living spaces known as cubicles.

A fire at a subdivided apartment building in Kowloon killed four people earlier this year, prompting calls from some lawmakers for a ban on cubicle flats.

Chief executive Donald Tsang rejected the calls, acknowledging that rocketing apartment prices left many people with no option but to live in overcrowded, unsafe buildings.

"Undoubtedly 'sub-divided units' pose risks for building safety, but they do provide accommodation for low-income people not eligible for public housing," he said in an October policy address.

"Banning 'sub-divided units' across the board is therefore not a solution."

The Ladies Market at Fa Yuen Street is popular with tourists looking for cheap deals on items such as clothing, toys and mobile phone accessories.
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