New Zealand police said they plan to start removing bodies from the Wellington hostel where at least six people were killed in a fire
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand police said Thursday they plan to start removing bodies from the Wellington hostel where at least six people were killed in a fire.
Police Inspector Dion Bennett said they aimed to remove the first two bodies from Loafers Lodge on Thursday and the next two on Friday. Bennett said it is possible that they will find more victims as officers continue to examine them at the scene.
“The damage on the third floor is significant,” Bennett told reporters. “The wreckage is piled high, and there is a lot they can move about and look under.”
Police say the fire was arson and have opened a murder investigation.
They haven’t arrested anyone yet, Bennett said, but they have a list of people they want to talk to and hope to quickly identify any suspects. He declined to say if they had found evidence of acceleration or any other evidence of criminal behavior at the scene.
Police said a sofa at Loafers Lodge caught fire about two hours before the large, deadly blaze on Tuesday. They said the sofa fire had not been reported to emergency services at the time, and they were investigating to see if there was any connection between the two fires.
The murder investigation marks a change of heart for the police, who initially said they did not believe the fire had been set deliberately.
Bennett said police have identified 92 people who were at the lodge and have a list of names of others who remain missing, though not necessarily missing. Police said earlier that they expected the final death toll to be less than 10.
The RNZ news site determined that journalist Liam Hawkings was a missing lodger. Hawkings is the brother of BBC presenter Lucy Hawkings.
The fire broke out in the building early on Tuesday morning and forced some people to flee in their pajamas. Other firefighters rescued from the roof or dived from windows.
Loafers Lodge offers 92 basic and affordable rooms with shared lounges, kitchens and laundry facilities for people of a wide range of ages. Some people have been placed there by government agencies. Others worked at a nearby hospital.
Emergency officials said the building did not contain fire sprinklers. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the country’s building codes do not require sprinklers in older buildings that will need to be retrofitted.
“I’ve asked the housing secretary to look specifically at issues around the building regulations to see if there’s anything else we need to do right at this point,” Hipkins told reporters on Wednesday.
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