Japan fire kills 11 at home for elderly people

Japan fire kills 11 at home for elderly people

Eleven people were killed in northern Japan after fire broke out at a home for elderly people with financial difficulties, police said on Thursday.

Television footage showed the three-storey building engulfed in flames and dozens of firefighters battling the blaze in snowy conditions.

Pictures of the aftermath showed the blackened husk of the building, whose roof had apparently collapsed due to the fire.

The victims -- eight men and three women -- were among 16 residents of the facility in Sapporo, Hokkaido, run by a local organisation.

The other five residents escaped, a police spokesman told AFP, adding that authorities were investigating the victims' identities.

Kenji Kikai, a local police official, told AFP: "Of the five people who escaped, three people -- two men and one woman -- were rushed to hospital. The two men were slightly injured and the woman sustained moderate injuries.

"They are still hospitalised but the injuries are not life-threatening," added Kikai.

Two others escaped unharmed.

Police said they had launched a probe into the cause of the fire first alerted at 11:42 pm (1442 GMT) Wednesday via an emergency call.

The accommodation was originally a Japanese inn built around 50 years ago that was later turned into a welfare home.

The facility is aimed at supporting elderly people with financial difficulties by offering low-cost accommodation and helping them find work, public broadcaster NHK reported.

It is usually unstaffed overnight, according to local media.

As dawn broke, police and firefighters were combing the blackened remains of furniture in freezing temperatures.