Oakland fire: 33 confirmed dead as search continues

media captionOakland residents held a vigil for victims of the fire

Thirty-three bodies have so far been recovered from a warehouse in Oakland, California, following a deadly fire during a party, officials say.

Only about 20% of the building has been searched and "a significant number" of people are still missing, they said.

It is unclear what caused the fire at the converted warehouse.

The safety record of the building is under close scrutiny. There were no sprinklers and the only exit from the second floor was a makeshift stairwell.

Meanwhile, a man identified by former residents as the collective's co-operator, has drawn criticism for a Facebook post, in which he wrote that "everything I worked so hard for is gone", without acknowledging those who died.

'Like a maze'

Oakland fire chief Teresa Deloach-Reed said between 50 and 100 people were inside the venue when the fire started late on Friday.

The old warehouse, known as the Ghost Ship, was hosting a concert by electronic group Golden Donna and six other acts.

The fire caused the roof to collapse on to the second floor, part of which then fell through to the ground floor.

The building did not have a sprinkler system and firefighters did not hear any alarms when they arrived, Ms Deloach-Reed said.

The warehouse, which housed artists in improvised studios, was packed with furniture, mannequins and other objects, obstructing firefighters' efforts to put out the blaze, she added.

"It was filled end to end with furniture, whatnot, collections. It was like a maze, almost."

image copyrightGetty images
image captionFirefighters are struggling through piles of debris to reach the bodies of those killed in the warehouse fire

Fire crews worked all night at the scene. The search for bodies is expected to continue for at least another 48 hours.

Melinda Drayton, battalion chief at the Oakland Fire Department, said firefighters were going through the debris "bucket by bucket".

"It was quiet, it was heartbreaking," she said, choking back tears. "This will be a long and arduous process.

"We don't believe we have even gotten close to the origin of the fire."

She said every precaution was being taken to treat the victims' remains with respect.

Only three of the bereaved families are believed to have had their loved ones' deaths confirmed, due to issues with identification.

image copyrightTPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
image captionPictures of the blaze showed the building engulfed by flames
image copyrightReuters
image captionDaylight revealed charred walls and window frames
image copyrightAP
image captionOakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said the warehouse was like a maze

A painstaking search: Dave Lee, BBC News, in Oakland

The biggest challenges for the recovery teams are accessing the warehouse, and identifying the deceased.

Trucks carrying lumber arrived at the scene around midday on Sunday, and firefighters set to work building wooden structures to support the dangerous building.

They've been trying to reach the bodies since Friday night, and they expect to be here for several days yet.

Families of loved ones are now being asked to gather things like toothbrushes and combs to aid with DNA identification of the victims - the same technique authorities used after the attacks on 11 September.

A spokeswoman for the Oakland Fire department encapsulated the mood here perfectly, saying the atmosphere was "quiet and heartbreaking".

Oakland's Planning Department said it had opened an investigation into the premises last month after complaints from neighbours about rubbish, and of people living inside, against building regulations.

One former resident, Shelley Mack, told the Associated Press (AP) the building was "like a horror house", adding that there was no electricity or running water.

Media in Oakland named Derick Ion as the co-operator of the collective with his partner, Micah Allison.

A Facebook post by Derick Ion lamenting the loss of his belongings but saying he was "blessed that my children and Micah were at a hotel safe and sound" drew a barrage of criticism online.

Neither co-owner has commented publicly and their whereabouts are unknown.

Much of the work in the wake of the fire has focused on securing the building to allow search teams and investigators to enter.

Relatives of those who are missing have gathered at the Oakland coroners' office.

"I just want to go over there," Dan Vega, whose brother and his girlfriend are missing, told AP. "I have my work boots on. I'm ready to go."

image copyrightAP
image captionWell-wishers are placing flowers at the scene of the tragedy
image copyrightAP
image captionA memorial for the victims was held at an Oakland chapel. Genevieve Griseau, pictured, has missing friends who have not been accounted for.
image copyrightReuters
image captionFirefighters are gradually locating more bodies, which will have to be identified from DNA records

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