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A heavy toll when tragedy hits hostel

Unexpected, tragic events often have a far wider impact beyond just those directly affected. While those closest to events are generally hardest hit, many others will quite often be affected somehow.

This is certainly the case with last week’s fire in Wellington.

Police expect work at the scene of the fatal fire in Newtown last Tuesday to continue into this week, with a forensic examination underway.

Now a suspected arson, and possible homicide, a man has already been charged and remains in custody.

At least six are currently believed to have lost their lives in the early morning blaze at Loafers Lodge hostel, with five bodies recovered and more missing.

The Adelaide Rd tragedy has taken a heavy toll on the hostel residents, their friends and families, and the wider Newtown community.

The densely populated inner-city suburb has been hit hard. Since smoke from the blaze swept across the rooftops in the early hours of Tuesday morning, few, if any, residents would be unaware of the tragedy that has unfolded nearby.

Newtown is also where my own Wellington home is, so when my phone started ringing at 6.30 am on Tuesday with news of the fire, my heart sank.

The numbers potentially impacted immediately indicated the affected building was a social housing hub. Survivors of the fire had evacuated rooms which, for some, hold most if not all of their possessions. There were reports of affected residents asking for permission at the security cordons to access their things.

More than 50 people were brought to Newtown Park [Wellington’s primary athletics stadium] last Tuesday morning to shelter in rooms under the grandstand until a more permanent place was found for them.

Last Wednesday morning, only piles of donated clothing, emergency bags and half-eaten plates of food remained at the stadium as a testament to the previous day’s events. One person at the site teared up as he explained he was looking for a friend he hoped had been rescued off the roof of the Lodge. Despite making a number of enquiries, he had so far not been able to find him.

Down the road nearby, a resident of a halfway house nervously shared that – like Loafers Lodge – his place had no sprinklers.

The typically busy road outside Wellington Hospital was also uncharacteristically empty of traffic last Tuesday as commuters and others used alternative routes to make way for emergency workers.

While police, fire, and first responders worked at the scene, pedestrians and others watched from a distance. Some onlookers were wearing masks – possibly to avoid potential asbestos contamination from the charred building. Small groups gathered outside the nearby Countdown supermarket, keeping a respectful distance.

With Adelaide Rd remaining closed last week from early Tuesday and diversions in place, traffic has been heavy in the normally quiet residential streets. Even the main roads were uncharacteristically quiet.

Until investigations are complete, questions about the cause of the fire will remain. But in the meantime, the impact of this tragedy on those directly affected, as well as Newtown and all its residents, can be expected to linger for a long time.

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