At least three people died and 12 were injured on Friday in a fire at a Honolulu high-rise that was not equipped with sprinklers, authorities said, and hundreds fled the giant condominium complex as smoke billowed from the upper floors.
The dead were found on the 26th floor, where the fire broke out at about 2.15pm and then spread to the 28th floor of the Marco Polo residences, fire chief Manuel Neves said. Firefighters went door-to-door searching for people who might be trapped.
The 36-floor building was built in 1971, before sprinklers were required.
"Without a doubt if there were sprinklers in this apartment, the fire would be contained to the unit of origin," he said.
Resident Teresa Sommerville was shaken after hearing a woman's pleas for help.
"This lady's voice ... I'm trembling," Sommerville told KHON-TV. "She's like 'help me, help me,' and I couldn't see her because the smoke was so dark. All of a sudden the wind shifts and you see this lady is standing inside the lanai. She's not standing over the edge or anything, and she's like 'Help me, help me.'"
The blaze was still smoldering as the sun set, some four hours after it broke out, but no more flames were showing from outside the building and authorities said they expected to have it out soon.
The high-rise, one of several near the tourist mecca of Waikiki, has 568 condominiums that sell for an average of about $560,000 and four commercial spaces.
The building is vast and wave-shaped, and has several sections. The blaze was mostly confined to a single section, and only the units immediately above it and to the side of it were evacuated, while many residents stayed inside.
The conditions of the injured were not immediately clear. Four people were taken to hospitals, Honolulu Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Shayne Enright said.
"We noticed the smoke coming up past our unit because it was right underneath us, and after that we took off," said Al Citron, who lives on the 32nd floor of the building. "We heard some explosions, looked down and saw the flames."
Security guard Leonard Rosa said the evacuation was orderly as police and firefighters went door-to-door checking on people.
Peter Leng said his mother, who has dementia and is in a wheelchair, was still inside with a caretaker, and had been told to stay there.
"She's on the 22nd floor and she's still not out yet, she's still inside the building. They're telling her to stay put," Leng told Hawaii News Now as he stood outside. "I cannot go in there, I want to go in there and try to rescue her, but they won't let me."
Patrick Williamson, who lives on the 32nd floor with his two sons, ages 10 and 12, said they all evacuated when they smelled smoke.
Williamson said he felt "worried, concerned and a little angry" at the situation.
"For the fire to get this out of control is a little suspicious. Either the fire department was late in response or there was something going on in that unit. Either way one wonders what happened and I feel a little bit less secure living in the building."
Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city needs to look at passing a law requiring older buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers.
"The biggest argument is the affordability," Caldwell said. "Residents have to pay. It's pretty expensive. But if it saves a life and it's your life, it's worth the cost."
* Associated Press