Tokyo: More than 20 people were feared dead after a fire broke out Friday in a building in Osaka in western Japan, fire department officials said, and police were investigating arson as a possible cause.
The fire started on the fourth floor of an eight-story building in the shopping and entertainment area of Kitashinchi, Osaka city fire department official Akira Kishimoto said.
All of the victims were taken to nearby hospitals. Five people have been pronounced dead and three others were resuscitated, NHK national television and other media reported, but Japanese authorities declined to confirm those reports.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura offered condolences to those who died in the fire.
I’m praying so that as many lives as possible can be saved, he said.
The building houses an internal medicine clinic, an English language school and other businesses. Many of the victims are believed to be visitors at the clinic on the fourth floor, fire department officials said.
Yoshimura said he instructed other hospitals and mental health clinics to provide consultations for about 600 people who were receiving treatment at the damaged clinic.
The cause of the fire and other details were not immediately known. Osaka police said they were investigating to determine whether the fire was caused by arson or an accident.
Media reports said police were searching for a man who witnesses saw carrying a paper bag from which an unidentified liquid was dripping, but police declined to confirm those reports.
People on other floors of the building were believed to have been safely evacuated, Kishimoto said.
NHK footage showed dozens of fire engines and police vehicles on the street near the building, with onlookers watching the development from across the street.
NHK quoted a witness saying she heard a woman’s voice coming from the fourth floor calling for help. Another witness told TV Asahi he saw flames and smoke coming out of windows on the fourth floor of the building when he stepped outside after hearing a commotion.
Another bystander told TBS television that a number of people taken out of the building were covered with blue tarps and seemed lifeless. He said he saw one woman who was alive being rescued through a window.
In total, 70 fire engines were mobilised to fight the fire, which was mostly extinguished within about 30 minutes of an emergency call, officials said.
In a 2019 arson at the Kyoto Animation studio, an attacker stormed into the building and set it on fire, killing 36 people and injuring more than 30 others. The incident shocked Japan and drew an outpouring of grief from anime fans worldwide. In 2001, an intentionally set blaze in Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times.