Authorities said they were preparing to deal with dozens of fatalities after a fire raced through a converted warehouse crowded with people attending a Friday night concert, officials said.
Nine bodies have been recovered, but Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said officials were prepared for up to 40 fatalities. He said many of those inside the warehouse were young, some from foreign countries.
Firefighters were beginning to move through the burned-out remains of the building looking for victims. The building’s roof caved in, and debris will make the search effort difficult, Kelly said.
As of 2:20 p.m., officials said the number of fatalities remained at nine but that the search was continuing. Kelly stressed that the death toll was likely to rise — but by how much remains unclear. Officials said there were at least 12 survivors, one of whom went to a hospital for treatment.
There is no known cause of the fire. While arson is not suspected, Kelly said investigators are on scene and nothing has been ruled out. Officials said the warehouse isn’t currently considered a crime scene.
Officials believe there likely are more fatalities because there are friends and family who still have not heard from some people who attended the concert. Kelly said there were relatively few injuries among those who escaped.
“This is just a tragedy, and there are no easy answers,” Kelly said. “This is not an easy task.”
He said it could take two days to complete to search for victims.
Witnesses described a horrific fight for survival as people tried to flee the flames.
Al Garcia, who owns a store next to the warehouse, said he talked to two people who said they were 17 and 18 years old who got out of the building.