Firefighters battle flames in Hong Kong’s shopping district

HONG KONG (AP) – Firefighters in Hong Kong battled a large fire Friday that broke out overnight at a construction site in a popular shopping district and forced 170 people in nearby buildings to evacuate.

No injuries were reported after the fire broke out at the Mariners’ Club redevelopment project in the densely populated Tsim Sha Tsui district at around 11pm on Thursday. Several floors of the structure – including scaffolding – were on fire, and burning debris floated in the air.

Empire Group’s redevelopment plan was to build a 42-story architectural landmark to house the historic Mariners’ Club and a new hotel, the firm’s website said.

The fire was mostly out by 8:30 a.m. and authorities were still investigating the cause, said Deputy Fire Chief Keung Sai-ming. The fire brigade had been battling the blaze for around nine hours.

When firefighters arrived on the scene Thursday night, flames were seen on several floors of the building, but only temporary firefighting equipment was available, Keung said.

“The building is still under construction, so fire-fighting equipment often found in other buildings is not ready for use yet,” he said. “We needed a large number of people to deliver water to the very high floors to fight the fire, so we faced many challenges.”

The building materials there, including wooden boards and metal rods, also made it difficult for firefighters to move around, he added.

The area is surrounded by a shopping centre, several hotels and some residential and commercial buildings. Earlier in the night, crowds of onlookers gathered in the street to watch the operation, which involved 250 firefighters and paramedics.

“Last night it was quite windy. The burning debris was blown against five buildings by our count, Keung said. “Two of the buildings, namely a hotel and a commercial building, saw parts of their roofs catch fire. Fortunately, our officers on standby extinguished them quickly.”

When dawn broke, the fire was less severe than it had been hours earlier, although flames could still be seen on several floors. The structure’s outer walls were blackened and parts of the scaffolding appeared to be shaking.

People who stayed in three buildings near the site had to be evacuated, the police said.

A person staying in a nearby building was startled and felt sick, and was later taken to a hospital, authorities said. Another resident also felt sick near the spot and went to the hospital, they added.

A tourist and shopping area in Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui is known for its skyscrapers and an iconic view of the city’s Victoria Harbour.

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