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Fire tears through nightclub and apartment building in Istanbul, killing at least 29 people: "I've lost four friends"

A fire that raged from the basement of a 16-story building in central Istanbul killed at least 29 people Tuesday, with flames and thick smoke billowing for hours despite a massive emergency response. Rescue efforts had ended by early evening, the city governor's office said, and eight people were arrested over the blaze that began in a basement where builders had been renovating a nightclub.

The fire in the Gayreteppe neighborhood of the city's Besiktas district began at 12:47 local time and was put out by late afternoon, the office of regional governor Davut Gul said.

An AFP reporter saw three exhausted firefighters sat on the ground with smoke-blackened faces and equipment as they recovered from the effort.

As well as the 29 killed, one hurt person was still being treated in hospital, Gul's office said.

Fire tragedy in Istanbul: 29 dead
Fire brigade and ambulance teams arrive at the Besiktas district of Istanbul after a fire broke out during renovations in the night club in the basement of a 16-story building on April 2,2024 in Istanbul, Turkey.  Sercan Ozkurnazli/dia images via Getty Images

It was not immediately clear whether the victims died from smoke inhalation or from the flames.

"An investigation has been opened into the fire that occurred in... Istanbul," Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya posted on social media.

TV images from the scene showed large flames roaring from lower-story windows, spewing a column of thick black smoke that hugged the building's facade. Authorities cut power, water and gas to the area as a precaution, the Reuters news agency reported.

All the men working on the site had died, the governor's office said, without specifying whether they accounted for all of the victims.

Gov. Davut Gul told reporters at the scene that the cause of the fire was under investigation and the victims were believed to be involved in the renovation work.

Some of the victims died in hospitals where they were rushed in ambulances, private NTV television reported.

The nightclub was closed for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and its owners were trying to complete the renovation work in time for next week's Eid holiday, which follows the month of fasting, NTV reported.

Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is aware of the tragedy following a phone call with the interior minister, the BBC reported.

"I've lost four friends"

The toll rose throughout the afternoon, with most of the 12 people initially reported seriously hurt then succumbing to their injuries despite hospital treatment.

"I've lost four friends," local man Fikret Kaya told AFP as firefighters were leaving the scene, but could not say any more.

Not far from him, a woman wearing a black cap was weeping with her head in her hands.

The venue, a popular Gayrettepe nightspot called "Club Masquerade," boasted several stages and regularly gave live concerts.

Its license was first issued in 1987 and renewed in 2018, governor Gul said, adding that the club was "maintained and renovated."

But local media reported that the owners had not secured a permit for the work on the 1,500-capacity club, that it lacked emergency exits and that basement columns had been removed, leaving it vulnerable to earthquakes.

Those arrested included the club's owner and manager, as well as the head of the metalworking company carrying out the renovation work.

Istanbul's newly re-elected mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who rushed to the scene, said "the fire is under control. Let's hope there are no further victims", offering his condolences to the relatives of the dead and injured.

"May God have mercy on our citizens who lost their lives, and I wish a speedy recovery to our injured," he posted on social media, along with images of him talking to officials at the scene.

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