“I had no choice but to live here,” said one resident who survived a blaze that killed 46 of her neighbors and raised questions about lax safety standards.
With search-and-rescue efforts completed, prosecutors in Taiwan are investigating what could have caused the blaze that killed 46 people in an aging high-rise in the in the southern port city of Kaohsiung. The fire began on the first floor of the commercial and residential building and quickly spread to higher floors. Authorities have not ruled out arson, and on Friday were questioning a couple after a scorched incense burner was found in a back room on the first floor.
But the fire’s high death toll — the second-highest of any building fire in Taiwan’s history — has also spurred broader questions about lax safety standards in the island’s older buildings. The Kaohsiung building is one of many aging structures across the island that have fallen into severe disrepair as a result of weak management and government neglect. On Friday, local officials said they had identified 34 “high-risk” older buildings in the city that they would be inspecting for safety and fire-code violations, The New York Times reports.
The blaze also highlighted the lack of support for poor and older people who are desperate for housing and often had no choice but to live in these last-chance buildings. Skyrocketing housing costs in Taiwan’s cities — and a rapidly aging population — have exacerbated these issues in recent years and have outpaced the government’s efforts to resolve them.
On Friday, three months after she moved in, Huang Chin-chih was feeling grateful not to be among the dead after a fire tore through the partly abandoned 13-story mixed-used building on Thursday night. It was Taiwan’s deadliest structural fire in more than two decades.
Ms. Huang had heard disturbing stories about the “ghost building,” and the 58-year-old housemaid was not thrilled about moving in. She had heard about the gangs, the homeless people and the prostitution. She saw the drunk squatters, the dark corridors and the piles of garbage in the stairwells. “I was afraid of this ghost building, but I had no choice but to live here,” said Ms. Huang, who had been out and returned to find her home engulfed in a raging inferno of orange and red flames. “I’m just feeling lucky I was not there that night.”
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