At least 63 people have died in a fire that engulfed a five-storey building in central Johannesburg on Thursday, the South African city’s emergency services said Thursday.
According to Spokesman Robert Mulaudzi, another 43 people were wounded in the blaze that broke out in the predawn hours. He noted that the death toll was likely to still increase in what he described as effectively “an informal settlement.”
“Over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” Mulaudzi said.
Firefighters who were called to the scene put out the flames and search and recovery operations were ongoing.
“We are moving floor by floor conducting these body recoveries,” Mulaudzi said, adding the death toll was expected to rise.
At least one child was among the dead, Mulaudzi disclosed.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze, which broke out overnight.
The five-storey building, which has been evacuated, is located in a deprived area of what used to be the business district of South Africa’s economic hub, and was used as an informal settlement, Mulaudzi said.
Television footage showed fire trucks and ambulances outside the red and white building with burned-out windows, which had been cordoned off by police.