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A massive fire that broke out overnight in a major city in southern Taiwan has killed 46 people and injured at least 41 others. Officials gave this information on Thursday.

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Flames and smoke were rising from the lower floors of the 13-story building as firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze from road and air platforms in Kaohsiung City. A statement from the fire department described the fire as “extremely severe” and said several floors were destroyed.

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The death toll continued to rise during the day as rescue workers searched a combined commercial and residential building. By late afternoon, officials said 32 bodies had been sent to the morgue, while another 14 showed no signs of life, 55 of them being taken to hospital. The death has been officially confirmed in the hospital in Taiwan.

After daylight, firefighters could be seen spraying water from high aerial platforms into the middle floors of the still smoldering building. One woman, who could not be identified, said on Taiwanese TV that her parents, 60 to 70, were still inside.

According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, officials said the age of the building and piles of rubble was hampering access to several areas, complicating search and rescue efforts.

Taiwan authorities say at least 46 people have been killed in a fire that engulfed a building that went out of control overnight in southern Taiwan. (credit: Xu Yi)

Local media said many residents of the 40-year-old building were elderly and lived alone in tiny apartments of 13 square meters (140 sq ft). The Central News Agency said there were 120 residential units on the upper floors of the building, as well as a closed movie theater, abandoned restaurant and karaoke club.

The United Daily News, a leading newspaper, reported that fire extinguishers were installed last month, but only three per floor because residents could not pay more.

Taiwanese media said the fire appeared to have started on the ground floor.

The United Daily News said investigators were focusing on a first-floor tea shop, the owner of which allegedly fought with his girlfriend on Wednesday. The newspaper said they did not rule out arson.

In 1995, a fire at a nightclub in Taichung, Taiwan’s third largest city, killed 64 people in the country’s worst disaster in recent times.