Morning Chronicle - Fire tears through Istanbul apartment block, killing 29

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Fire tears through Istanbul apartment block, killing 29
Fire tears through Istanbul apartment block, killing 29 / Photo: OZAN KOSE - AFP

Fire tears through Istanbul apartment block, killing 29

A fire that raged from the basement of a 16-storey building in central Istanbul killed at least 29 people Tuesday, with flames and thick smoke billowing for hours despite a massive emergency response.

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Rescue efforts had ended by early evening, the city governor's office said, and eight people were arrested over the blaze that began in a basement where builders had been renovating a nightclub.

The fire in the Gayreteppe neighbourhood of the city's Besiktas district began at 12:47 (0947 GMT) and was put out by late afternoon, the office of regional governor Davut Gul said.

An AFP reporter saw three exhausted firefighters sat on the ground with smoke-blackened faces and equipment as they recovered from the effort.

As well as the 29 killed, one hurt person was still being treated in hospital, Gul's office said.

It was not immediately clear whether the victims died from smoke inhalation or from the flames.

"An investigation has been opened into the fire that occurred in... Istanbul," Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya posted on X.

TV images from the scene showed large flames roaring from lower-storey windows, spewing a column of thick black smoke that hugged the building's facade.

All the men working on the site had died, the governor's office said, without specifying whether they accounted for all of the victims.

- Mounting toll -

The toll rose throughout the afternoon, with most of the 12 people initially reported seriously hurt then succumbing to their injuries despite hospital treatment.

"I've lost four friends," local man Fikret Kaya told AFP as firefighters were leaving the scene, but could not say any more.

Not far from him, a woman wearing a black cap was weeping with her head in her hands.

The venue, a popular Gayrettepe nightspot called "Club Masquerade", boasted several stages and regularly gave live concerts.

Its license was first issued in 1987 and renewed in 2018, governor Gul said, adding that the club was "maintained and renovated".

But local media reported that the owners had not secured a permit for the work on the 1,500-capacity club, that it lacked emergency exits and that basement columns had been removed, leaving it vulnerable to earthquakes.

Those arrested included the club's owner and manager, as well as the head of the metalworking company carrying out the renovation work.

Istanbul's newly re-elected mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who rushed to the scene, said "the fire is under control. Let's hope there are no further victims", offering his condolences to the relatives of the dead and injured.