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Building of fatal fire houses Southeast Asian nationals

2017/11/23 23:28:10

Taipei, Nov. 23 (CNA) The building whose top two stories were the scene of a fatal fire Wednesday housed at least nine people originally from Southeast Asian countries, including seven from Myanmar, one from Thailand, and one Indonesian who was killed, the police said Thursday.

The blaze broke out at about 8:37 p.m. Wednesday in the four-story building with an illegally-added fifth story in New Taipei City's Zhonghe District. The fire claimed nine lives and injured two others.

Of the nine deaths, five were confirmed as Taiwanese, one female victim was Indonesian, and the other victim remained unidentified. Two other bodies were burned beyond recognition, according to the city government's Fire Department.

The five Taiwanese were 59-year-old Ko Yung-tang (柯永堂), 61-yead-old Chang Ming-hua (張明華), 34-year-old Liu Shu-hua(劉淑華), 42-year-old Wang Chih-wei (王志偉), and 34-year-old Huang Hsin-chieh (黃新傑). The 24-year-old Indonesian victim was identified as Nurmah and the body that remained to be identified was a man at his 50s.

According to the police, each of two floors was about 40 ping (132 square meters) in size and they had a total of 25 rooms. But police did not know how many people the rooms were rented out to.

The police on Thursday arrested a man surnamed Li (李), who was suspected of setting fire to the building after he had an altercation with a man surnamed Hu, who lived on the fourth floor of the building and escaped from the fire unharmed.

Of the people who survived, at least seven were from Myanmar, including a Myanmarese worker who was only identified by his Chinese name Tuan Chi-min (段繼敏), who sustained slight injuries in the fire, a policeman at Zhonghe Precinct told CNA.

The police said that they did not know the whereabouts of Hu, who was an ethnic Chinese from Myanmar, and that of a tenant who was originally from Thailand.

The building was owned by a woman surnamed Lien who was taken by the police to the scene as they investigated the cause of the fire.

Pressed by reporters on why she used wood‐based materials as partitions, which the Fire Department said was a major culprit in the fire's rapid spread, Lien offered no comment.

According to a tenant on the fourth floor who gave her surname as Tseng, each room was about three to four pings in size. Tseng said she fled the building in time after a woman knocked on her door.

"I was lucky and so was my son. He was at school then," Tseng said.

A tenant who gives her name as Tseng lives on the fourth floor with her son.

Ma Ching-ni (馬敬尼), a Myanmarese of Chinese descent who has lived in Taiwan for 27 years, said that about half of the tenants were either Myanmarese or Myanmarese-Chinese who have obtained citizenship in Taiwan.

Ma Ching-ni

The building was located near Huaxin Street, home to Taiwan's largest community of Myanmarese-Chinese. Ma, who lived on the third floor of the building, said that he lives there due to easy access to shops on Huaxin Street.

Ma said he went home at 9 p.m. Wednesday and saw the flats bursting into fire.

"I heard from my friends that they heard fierce arguments and then people shouting in the Burmese language that the building was on fire," Ma said.

Liu Ching-tzung (劉慶宗), who lived on the third floor, said that he has lived there for five years because he thought the monthly rent of NT$5,000 (US$150) was affordable.

Liu said he felt so fortunate to have escaped the fire because he was at his friend's place playing mahjong. Liu said he did not know most of the tenants in the building, but he knew that some of them were migrant workers who worked odd jobs.

Liu said that the landlady had just bought the building last year.

"During the five years I lived here, she was the third landlord. The building was an investment property. I thought they (the landlords) all bought it for investment," Liu said.

Liu Ching-tzung says some of the tenants are migrant workers who work odd jobs.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)