At least six people are dead and 11 are unaccounted for after a large blaze broke out at a four-storey building in central Wellington early on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed to AM at least six people have died but fears that number could rise.
"I have had varying reports, I understand six confirmed previously and it looks like there are likely to be more," Hipkins told AM co-host Ryan Bridge.
What you need to know:
- A fire broke out in Loafers Lodge hostel in Newtown, Wellington early on Tuesday morning.
- Prime Chris Hipkins confirmed six people are dead, police later added there are fewer than 10 deaths.
- Fire and Emergency said 52 people have been accounted for from the building, with a number of people still missing.
- Fire and Emergency said it was a "tragic morning" and the scene encountered by first responders was described as a "worst nightmare".
- Housing Minister Megan Woods said the building was inspected as recently as this year and was up to code, including with fire sprinklers and alarms.
Wellington City Council update on fire
Wellington City Council has issued an update on Loafers Lodge and the response to the deadly fire, including the fact there was asbestos in the roof of the building. They say the risk to neighbours of the building is low, but offer advice to local residents.
In a statement they said building officers and environmental health officers have been onsite since early today and they are currently assisting FENZ and Police.
The Loafers Lodge has a Building Warrant of Fitness issued in March this year. There were no concerns raised by the independently qualified person who inspected and tested the life safety systems in the building.
The Council has contacted the building owners to offer any assistance they may need.
The Council also has a Building Compliance team working with FENZ and MBIE to provide them with information on the building. The Council will work with appropriate authorities on any investigations.
Significant support has been in place between the City Council’s welfare team and other agencies to care for about 50 displaced people and manage their welfare. This is an interagency task and support includes food, clothing, showers etc.
The team is also working to provide temporary accommodation for people who need it.
Adelaide Road remains closed to through traffic in the vicinity of the fire. Alternate transport routes remain in place and traffic is significant in this area of the city (Newtown/Adelaide Rd).
Tonight’s scheduled maintenance of the Mt Victoria traffic tunnel has been postponed, providing an alternative route to the southern and eastern suburbs.
The roof of Loafers Lodge contained some asbestos material and small pieces of the cement containing asbestos fibres are present in the area immediately surrounding the damaged building. This material will be kept damp until removed preventing asbestos fibres being released into the air. Asbestos fibres are not considered a health risk unless they are present in the air.
In outdoor settings, asbestos fibres disperse quickly. The number of fibres in the air returns to low levels within a few metres of a contamination source. The risk to neighbouring properties from the site is therefore low; however, here are some steps you can take to reduce the risk further:
· Where possible, keep windows and doors closed.
· If there is dust or debris around your property, remove shoes before entering your house.
· Clean any dust on surfaces, shoes etc. using a damp disposable cloth.
Luxon expresses 'huge admiration' for first responders
National leader Christopher Luxon and deputy leader Nicola Willis visited the cordon of Wellington's fatal hostel fire on Tuesday afternoon to pay respect to those who lost their lives.
Luxon told media he was shocked by the scenes seen overnight.
"Our thoughts and prayers are definitely with the people who have lost their lives, the families who have lost loved ones and those who are now fighting for their lives in hospital."
Luxon expressed his gratitude to the first responders who were faced with a challenging and traumatic task.
"At that peak of the fire last night, they were in there for a maximum of 15 minutes because it was so intense and so hot. They were going through so much oxygen so quickly," he said.
"Huge admiration for what they do and their bravery."
Willis said one firefighter told her the job "has just begun".
"They have the potentially really traumatic task of them reentering that building and finding any bodies and I know there's some trepidation about that task," Willis said.
"There's a lot ahead for them."
When Luxon and Willis were asked if they or the National Party would contribute to the mayoral relief fund, Luxon said he "personally would be".
Police are urging anyone who was living in Loafers Lodge in Wellington or is concerned about someone living there to connect to police.
Those people are asked to call 105 and reference Operation Rose, or go online here and select the form “Something Else”, referencing Operation Rose.
Police are using these reports, as well as other information from our community partners, to help determine who was in the building at the time and ensure their welfare.
"We are aware of information circulating relating to the number of deceased and number of unaccounted for, however, until more is known Police will not be in a position to confirm numbers," a police spokesperson said.
Crew continuing to work on Loafers Lodge - FENZ
Fire and Emergency New Zealand says crews are continuing to work on the Loafers Lodge hostel.
District Manager Nick Pyatt said relief crews have relieved the overnight firefighters to complete the mopping up work.
Six crews are currently on-site including an Urban Search and Rescue Squad (USAR), which is made up of technicians and drone operators.
The USAR squad is currently assessing structural integrity before investigations start.
"Once we've gained access to the building following structural integrity process, we will work on mopping up hotspots to allow for the investigation process," Pyatt said.
Fire Emergency will work alongside police on the investigation.
"At this stage, any cause of the fire or any other details around the circumstances of the fire cannot be confirmed," he said.
At its peak, 29 crews, which amounts to more than 80 firefighters attended the blaze.
People in the area should avoid exposure by keeping windows and doors closed, turning off air conditioning, and avoiding touching any material from the fire.
Health effects from asbestos released from fires are generally considered low risk.
Mayor announces Mayoral Relief Fund
Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau has opened a Mayoral Relief Fund to accept donations from the public for victims of the Loafer Lodge fire.
Any person or organisation wishing to donate to the Wellington Mayoral Relief Fund can deposit funds via the Wellington City Mission here and tag their donation to the Loafers Lodge fire.
Whanau says she has been overwhelmed by the offers of help by the public, and the Fund offers a straightforward way to channel that support.
"In crisis like this the generosity and community spirit of Wellingtonians is on full display and this fund allows us to provide support to people who have lost so much in this devastating fire.
"By donating to the Fund, we can ensure that people receive the immediate help they really need at this difficult time."
People were evacuated from their rooms with no notice and forced to leave all their belongings behind. This Fund will be used to help those affected get the essential supplies they need as well as counselling and other support.
"Sadly, a number of residents lost their lives in the fire. My thoughts go out to their families, friends and colleagues, who will be grieving this immense loss. Donations to the Mayoral Relief Fund will also help support the immediate families who have lost loved ones in the fire."
Further details about how the fund will be used, will be made available shortly, in the meantime, Mayor Whanau is asking for everyone to dig deep and show their aroha in response to this tragedy.
"Let’s show our fellow Wellingtonians that we are there for them in this tough time. I encourage anyone in a position to do so – please make a donation, small or large, to the fund."
"Very difficult circumstances" - Hipkins
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins provided an update at 11:30am and said first responders encountered "very difficult circumstances".
"We've not seen an event of this scale in quite some time. I know they've done everything they could. I want to reiterate my thanks and gratitude to them," he said.
Hipkins added it was a very "difficult morning" and described the situation as "quite confronting".
"It's clearly a traumatic situation," he told media.
Hipkins said he hadn't received a briefing about the lack of sprinklers in the hostel but added it would be addressed in subsequent investigations that would take place.
He told the media his message to Wellingtonians and New Zealanders who have been through a lot over the last two to three years is: "We will get through this".
"We will make sure the victims here are supported, we will make sure the first responders are as well because for our Fire and Emergency crews who were on the scene, clearly this was a traumatic incident for them as well," he said.
The Prime Minister said he hasn't seen anything on this scale for a long time.
"Wellingtonians will feel this. Wellington is a small community, particularly here in this community, it's a very tight-knit community. People will be feeling this today and I know people will band together to support each other.
Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said there are some "extremely traumatised people" at the evacuation centre, who survived the fire.
"Many people there have lost absolutely everything they had," Robertson said.
A fire spokesperson said the urban search and rescue teams were looking at the safety of the area, but he expected fire crews to be inside in the coming hours.
Non-urgent patients asked to stay away from Wellington Regional Hospital
Non-urgent patients are being asked to avoid coming to Wellington Regional Hospital unless they are in need of urgent or emergency care.
In a statement Te Whatu Ora Capital, Coast & Hutt Valley said due to the active fire scene in Newtown today, emergency services have closed Adelaide Road between John Street and the Basin Reserve, limiting access to the hospital.
Patients who have non-urgent and safely-deferrable appointments are being rescheduled. People are asked not to call about appointments as they will be contacted if their appointment is affected.
Anyone who requires urgent or emergency care will receive it. Anyone unsure if they require urgent care should contact their GP or medical centre, or phone Healthline (0800 611 116) for advice. In an emergency, call 111.
Due to the ongoing nature of the Newtown incident, the situation will likely change over the course of the day.
Our thoughts are with the people and whānau affected by this tragedy.
"Tragic morning" - Fire and Emergency New Zealand
It comes after Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) Wellington district manager Nick Pyatt said at a press conference it was a "tragic morning".
"I can sadly report that this will be a multi-fatality incident. Our thoughts are with the families of those who have perished and with our crews who valiantly rescued those and attempted to rescue those that they couldn't," Pyatt said.
He couldn't confirm how many people were unaccounted for or how many were in the building but said 52 have been accounted for and taken to a welfare centre.
Pyatt described the scene encountered by crews first at the location as a "worst nightmare".
"It doesn't get worse than this," he said.
"The blaze is to a point now where we're what we call we're now mopping up, so there are tiny pockets of fire. We are dealing with a situation where the roof is potentially going to collapse, so we do have firefighters inside in a highly calculated manner trying to extinguish the fire."
FENZ Deputy National Commander Brendon Nally told Newstalk ZB there were no sprinklers in the building.
Pyatt confirmed there will be a formal investigation into the blaze.
When the fire started
FENZ crews were called to Loafers Lodge, on Adelaide Rd, just before 12.30am.
In a statement, FENZ said about 100 people were believed to be in the building and there were reports of people still inside as long as 20 minutes after the fire started.
FENZ said it is unclear if everyone has been accounted for at this stage and crews
carried out a "number" of rescues from the building.
There are 52 fire personnel on the fire ground, 11 fire appliances, three aerial trucks and several support vehicles.
Crews have come as far as Porirua to assist.
Fire crews rescued five people off the roof of the building using an aerial appliance.
In an update at 8:30am, police confirmed multiple people still remain unaccounted for but fewer than 10 people have died in the blaze.
"Our initial assessment is that the number of deceased is fewer than 10, however, we are not in a position to be any more specific until we can access the building," a police spokesperson said.
"It is currently unsafe and until we can access the building - and reconcile numbers of people who are safe - we are not in a position to determine how many people are deceased or unaccounted for."
Police said the focus is on identifying those people as soon as they can.
"We are asking people to please come forward if they, or someone they know, has been staying at the property, so we can eliminate them from our inquiries," the spokesperson said.
Adelaide Rd between John St and the Basin Reserve is expected to remain closed for much of the day while FENZ works at the scene alongside police.
At a press conference, Wellington Area Commander Insp Dean Silvester said he was reluctant to confirm the amount of dead but understood it was fewer than 10.
He couldn't confirm where the fire started.
Silvester said the focus for police is on figuring out who resides in the building.
"The number one aspect for us, in respect to the police, is trying to work out the people who reside at this location or people who have resided at this location or anyone who knows anyone who resides at this location," he said.
"So in respect of that, I ask anyone who has that information to contact police on 105 and quote 'Operation Rose.'"
Silvester said the hostel was "relatively transient".
"So that is one of the challenges for us is to determine who has either resided or been residing at this location," Silvester said. "So see once again, I encourage people to come forward to [the] police with that information."
Housing Minister Megan Woods has had an early briefing from officials and says the building was inspected as recently as this year and was up to code, including with fire sprinklers and alarms.
Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall also had an early briefing and says four people have been treated at Wellington Hospital.
'I feel pretty devastated' - Wellington Mayor
An emotional Wellington Mayor Tory Whanau told AM she burst into tears when she found out multiple people had died.
"I feel pretty devastated," she said.
"I think this is truly a tragic situation for our community and as has already been mentioned, my heart goes out to all of the families impacted by this.
"But I really want to thank our Fire and Emergency team for the phenomenal work they have done and the impact it's going to have on the team going forward, this is truly a devastating situation."
Whanau said everyone evacuated from the hostel had been taken to an emergency centre.
"They have been provided with resources, hot showers, food and blankets. In the long term, we will assess what other needs they have especially those who have been displaced," she said.
"For things like emergency accommodations, we will be working with MSD to ensure they have what they need."
Pyatt told AM fires don't get "more challenging than this" and firefighters put their "lives on the line" to fight it
"We were confronted with a very challenging incident," he said.
"We had people evacuating a building that was on fire. They had to make critical decisions, and without the time, they had their own lives at risk to make sure that they get as many people out of there to safety as possible."
Pyatt said he isn't aware of any injuries to firefighters.
"Tragedy" - PM Hipkins
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins labelled the blaze at the hostel an "absolute tragedy".
"Can I just acknowledge the incredible effort of our firefighters in the early hours of the morning to get people out of the building, to try and get the fire out, putting themselves in harm's way to do that," he said.
"Can I acknowledge the victims and their families. An absolutely tragic set of circumstances."
Hipkins said there will be time to look at why the fire happened and whether the building code was complied with. He hasn't received an advice on that yet.
Paul Eagle, MP for Rongotai, told AM Wellingtonians have "real concerns" for people who were inside the hostel at the time of the blaze.
"People have been ringing me all morning saying, 'my friends are in there', it's now just chimed over 8am and people have seen their mates not at work, so they are worried," he said.
"[They're] worried about older people they know are in there, who have been there temporarily and are nervous that they couldn't get out in time. So these are real concerns from locals."
Eagle described Newtown, the suburb where Loafers Lodge is located, as a community full of different ethnicities.
"Newtown is the world in one city, one little suburb of Wellington here, every ethnicity, you've got everyone. People feel that they can come here and call it home. The Loafers Lodge is no different.
"It certainly reflects Newtown, it's accepting of people. People do couch-surf, they do lodge literally and so I was really worried when I got those texts early this morning at about 2:30am when people were saying it's at the top of Adelaide Road and I thought, it must be Loafers Lodge."
Electricity has also been impacted in the area with the building's power needing to be isolated.
Incident controller Mike Dombrowski said residents in the area should stay inside with their windows and doors closed due to the smoke plume.
Motorists and other commuters are advised to take alternative routes and expect delays after the fire caused the closure of Adelaide Rd between John St and the Basin Reserve early on Tuesday morning.
Buses and other traffic between the central city and southern suburbs is likely to be diverted for several hours at least and delays can be expected. Bus passengers are advised to check the Metlink website for further details.
'Pretty scary' - Survivor
A tenant, who has been living on the third floor of the hostel since November last year, described to Newshub what the fire was like when it first started.
"So about 12:30am this morning there was a first fire, the security guard there managed to put it out, but then after that another fire," Chris said.
"[It's] pretty shocking, pretty scary, [it's] first fire I've been in."
When the fire first started, Chris said he went to check on his neighbour who was still in his room.
He told Newshub the fire started in the lounge on his floor before spreading throughout the building.
His first thought, when the fire started, was if he could get out of the lodge.
He told Newshub he is worried for everyone who was in the building, especially the older people but feels lucky to have got out safely.
"I hope I can get out of here, but then I was just worried about it because there's a lot of old people up there," he said.
"They're a bit slow and I was a bit worried about them, but it seems like everyone made it out."
"For me, where my room is situated, I'm probably like three or four metres away from the stairwell.
"So I've managed to get there quite easy, but it's other people who are further in the building because I couldn't even see, so other people who are deeper in the building will probably find it harder to find their way out."
He said the challenge was getting to the stairwell because once made it there, there wasn't any smoke.
"It was just getting to the stairwell, it was black as, thick as smoke, it was hard to breathe," Chris said.
Newshub also spoke to a Sunnie Chan, a resident who has lived in Hanson St Apartments, across the road from the fire, for 40 years.
He said a diverse group lives in the blazed hostel but also lots of elderly people.
Residents are known for having rooftop parties, he said.
Chan said he first first noticed the fire when his baby woke up in the night at about 1:30am.
The building was well alight and people were getting rescued from the roof, he said.
He told Newshub getting out of the building would have been very difficult.
Survivor Raymond Sutter, who lives on the third floor of the building, has described the moment he realised his building was on fire.
"I went back into my room and I stayed in there and then the water started coming in on the floor and then I thought it was time to leave," Sutter told Newshub.
"So I went out, there was a little bit of smoke but I went down down the stairwell and water was pouring down like mad on each floor."
Sutter said he was awake when the fire alarm went off, so opened his door to so what was happening and immediately saw smoke.
Another survivor, Simon Hanify, has lived at Loafers Lodge for five months.
He lived on the first floor and smelt smoke at around midnight, so went door to door yelling at people to get out.