More than 20 people were feared dead after a fire in a building in Osaka in western Japan, fire department officials said, as police investigated arson as a possible cause.
The fire started on Friday on the fourth floor of an eight-storey building in the shopping and entertainment area of Kitashinchi, Osaka city fire department official Akira Kishimoto said.
Twenty-seven people were found in a state of cardiac arrest and one other woman was injured, Mr Kishimoto said.
The woman was conscious and taken down by an aerial ladder from a window and was being treated in a hospital.
All of the victims were taken to nearby hospitals. Five have been pronounced dead and three others were resuscitated, NHK national television and other media reported, but Japanese authorities declined to confirm those reports.
Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura offered condolences to those who died in the fire.
“I’m praying so that as many lives as possible can be saved,” he said.
The building houses an internal medicine clinic, an English language school and other businesses. Many of the victims are believed to be visitors at the clinic on the fourth floor, fire department officials said.
Mr Yoshimura said he instructed other hospitals and mental health clinics to provide consultations for about 600 people who were receiving treatment at the damaged clinic.
Osaka police said they were investigating whether the fire was caused by arson or an accident.
Media reports said police were searching for a man who witnesses saw carrying a paper bag from which an unidentified liquid was dripping, but police declined to confirm them.
People on other floors of the building were believed to have been safely evacuated, Mr Kishimoto said.
NHK footage showed dozens of fire engines and police vehicles on the street near the building.
NHK quoted a witness saying she heard a woman’s voice coming from the fourth floor calling for help. Another witness told TV Asahi he saw flames and smoke coming out of windows on the fourth floor of the building when he stepped outside after hearing a commotion.
Another bystander said he saw one woman being rescued through a window.
Seventy fire engines tackled the blaze, which was mostly extinguished within about 30 minutes of an emergency call, officials said.