Eight people died in a fire at a cramped “illegal” hostel in the center of the Latvian capital Riga early Wednesday and the city’s mayor has vowed to close the accommodation.
Three people were arrested as police opened a criminal investigation, the Latvian news agency BNS said.
Mayor Martins Stakis said the hostel, housed in an apartment near Riga’s main train station, was mainly used by foreigners, but it was not yet clear who the victims were.
Along with the eight dead, nine people were found injured and 24 evacuated from the fire on the sixth floor after the emergency services were called at 4:43 a.m. (0143 GMT), according to a statement from the fire and rescue services. .
“I was woken up by an explosion and saw an orange light shine under the door,” said a visibly shocked witness identified only as Viktorija on the public broadcaster’s live program outside the building.
“I crawled on my knees. My airways are burnt and the ambulance said I need a doctor, but I think others need it more, ”she said.
One person was found dead at the hostel on Tuesday, before the fire, after a suspected drug overdose, LETA news agency reported, citing authorities.
The mayor said the hostel is called Japanese Style Centrum. Photos of his premises on booking.com show tight beds in small attic rooms.
“The rooms looked like a shoebox,” Sofia from Spain wrote in a review on the website after staying at the hostel in February.
Another reviewer, by a Latvian called Viktorija who stayed there in March, said the room had no windows or ventilation, while others spoke of long-time residents living alongside visiting tourists.
“People are sleeping on the stairs,” wrote an anonymous reviewer from Australia in December. The hostel did not immediately respond to questions sent through the website’s request form.
Officials were refused entry in February to conduct a fire safety inspection, Interior Minister Sandis Girgens said, while Stakis called the hostel “illegal”.
“It was not a (real) youth hostel, it was an apartment that served as a youth hostel,” said the mayor. “It is very likely that this is not the only apartment of this type in Riga, and we have to fix this problem.”
Hotels and hostels in the picturesque Baltic state have remained free to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but the number of foreign visitors has fallen sharply. The country of 1.9 million people has reported 2,106 deaths from the virus, with daily cases rising recently but still well below the January peak.
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