WELLINGTON, New Zealand — At least six people were killed after a fire erupted overnight Tuesday in a hostel in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“It is an absolute tragedy,” Mr. Hipkins told reporters at Parliament on Tuesday. “It is a horrific situation.”
The cause of the fire was not yet known. There will be “a number of investigations” into the disaster, the prime minister said.
The hostel has no sprinklers, and the fire alarm did not go off automatically, Brendan Neally, a fire department spokesman, told Radio New Zealand. New Zealand’s building codes require that sprinklers be put into newly constructed buildings, but not older ones.
The hostel passed a building inspection in March this year, which included tests of the building’s safety systems, a statement from the Wellington City Council said.
Some tenants of the hostel, called Loafers Lodge, were clients of New Zealand’s social welfare agency. It has 92 rooms and was fully occupied when the fire broke out, officials said.
“The hallways are really skinny with these tight little stairs, so my heart sank when I saw the news,” said Mark Lilly, who said he had moved out of the hostel two weeks earlier. He had come to the scene looking for information about residents who had not answered their phones.
“There were a lot of old men who lived on the top floor who moved slowly and shouldn’t have been put up there,” Mr. Lilly added.
More than 50 residents who had fled the fire were accounted for, and five more were rescued from the roof of the four-story hostel, officials said. Four people were hospitalized, one of whom was in serious condition. More than 80 firefighters were battling the blaze at its peak, and the fire was put out at about 6 a.m.
Mr. Neally said that 11 people were still unaccounted for. It was not yet clear how many people had died, because the building was unsafe to enter, Inspector Dean Silvester, a police spokesman, said in a statement.
A drone was being used to examine the building for structural damage.
The hostel is in Newtown, a socially and ethnically diverse neighborhood less than a mile from Wellington’s city center, where rapidly rising house prices have pushed out many students and low-income families.
Anthony Harris, a 36-year-old welder, said he had lost all of his belongings in the fire and did not know where he would sleep that night.
He said he fled his third-floor room when he woke to the sound of people yelling in the hallways. There were often false fire alarms in the hostel, he said, and he might have stayed in bed if he hadn’t noticed smoke seeping in under the door.
Mr. Harris said the hostel’s doors to the street could only be opened electronically, not manually. “We only got out because there was one guy lying on the floor holding the front door open, keeping low to avoid smoke,” he said.
The hostel’s residents included workers at a nearby hospital, people who had recently been homeless, and New Zealanders who had been deported from Australia because of criminal convictions.
“It’s an accommodation place where our government places the most vulnerable and most in need of support who can’t find places to live due to our housing crisis,” said Filipa Payne, a spokeswoman for Route 501, an advocacy group that supports the deportees. Ms. Payne said she had not been able to contact every tenant she knew in the building.
The blaze was a “once in a decade” event for the city, said Nick Pyatt, the fire and emergency district manager for Wellington. “It’s the worst nightmare for us,” he added.