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Fire ravages nightclub and apartment building in Istanbul, killing at least 29 people: ‘I lost four friends’

At least 29 people were killed in a fire that broke out in the basement of a 16-story building in central Istanbul on Tuesday. Despite massive emergency measures, the flames and thick smoke billowed for hours. Rescue efforts were completed by early evening, the city governor’s office said, and eight people were arrested over the fire, which broke out in a basement where construction workers were renovating a nightclub.

The fire in the Gayreteppe neighborhood of Besiktas municipality started at 12:47 p.m. local time and was extinguished late in the afternoon, regional governor Davut Gul’s office said.

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

In addition to the 29 dead, one injured person is being treated in the hospital, Gul’s office said.

Fire disaster in Istanbul: 29 dead
Fire and ambulance teams arrive in Istanbul’s Besiktas district after a fire broke out during renovation work at the nightclub in the basement of a 16-story building on April 2, 2024 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Sercan Ozkurnazli/dia Images via Getty Images

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

“An investigation into the fire in … Istanbul has been launched,” Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said posted on social media.

Television images from the scene showed large flames shooting out of the basement windows and sending out a thick column of black smoke that enveloped the building’s facade. As the Reuters news agency reported, authorities cut off electricity, water and gas in the area as a precautionary measure.

All men working at the site died, the governor’s office said, without specifying whether they were all victims.

Governor Davut Gul told reporters at the scene that the cause of the fire was being investigated and that the victims were believed to have been involved in the renovation work.

Some of the victims died in hospitals where they were taken by ambulance, private television channel NTV reported.

The nightclub was closed for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and its owners were trying to complete renovations in time for next week’s Eid holiday, which follows the fasting month, NTV reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is aware of the tragedy after a telephone conversation with the Interior Minister BBC reported.

“I lost four friends”

The number of victims increased over the course of the afternoon, with most of the twelve people initially reported as seriously injured succumbing to their injuries despite treatment in hospital.

“I lost four friends,” local Fikret Kaya told AFP as firefighters left the scene, but was unable to say anything more.

Not far from him, a woman in a black hat was crying and holding her head in her hands.

The venue, a popular nightclub in Gayrettepe called “Club Masquerade,” featured several stages and regularly held live concerts.

Its license was first issued in 1987 and renewed in 2018, Governor Gul said, adding that the club had been “maintained and renovated”.

However, local media reported that the owners had not sought permission for work on the 1,500-seat club, that it lacked emergency exits and that basement columns had been removed, making it earthquake-prone.

Those arrested included the club’s owner and manager, as well as the head of the metalworking company that carried 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 more victims” and expressed his condolences to the families of the dead and injured.

“May God have mercy on our citizens who lost their lives and I wish a speedy recovery to our injured,” he said posted on social mediaalong with Pictures of him speaking to officers at the crime scene.

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