A large house fire in Philadelphia early on Wednesday killed 13 people, including seven children, and sent two people to hospitals, fire officials said.
Officials said at a news conference later in the morning that there were four smoke detectors in the building but that none were operating.
They warned that the numbers of injuries and deaths could grow as firefighters inspected the house, where officials said 26 people had been staying.
Firefighters and police responded to the fire at the three-storey rowhouse in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood at about 6.40am and found flames coming from the second-floor windows, in an area believed to be a kitchen, fire officials said. The house had been converted into two apartments and is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, police said.
The fire was brought under control after less than an hour. WPVI-TV reported that at least one child was seen taken out on a stretcher. City and fire officials did not release the names or ages of those killed in the fire.
Television news footage showed ladders propped up against the smoke-blackened front of the house, with all its windows missing. Holes remained in the roof where firefighters had broken through.
“It was terrible. I’ve been around for 35 years now and this is probably one of the worst fires I have ever been to,” said Craig Murphy, first deputy fire commissioner, at a news conference near the scene later in the morning.
According to police, 18 people lived in the second-floor apartment of the duplex, and another eight people lived on the first floor.
It was a “tremendous amount of people to be living in a duplex,” said Murphy.
Murphy said that the fire was not currently considered suspicious, but investigations continue.
“I knew some of those kids – I used to see them playing on the corner,” said Dannie McGuire, 34, fighting back tears as she and Martin Burgert, 35, stood in the doorway of a home around the corner. They had lived there for a decade, she said, “and some of those kids have lived here as long as us.”
“I can’t picture how more people couldn’t get out – jumping out a window,” she said.
“Without a doubt one of the most tragic days in our city’s history,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Losing so many kids is just devastating. Keep these babies in your prayers.”
Associated Press contributed to this report