At least 64 people have been killed in a fire in a multi-storey building in South Africa’s biggest city, authorities have said.
Officials said 43 more were injured in the blaze in Johannesburg, which broke out in the middle of the night.
Robert Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the emergency services, has warned the number of fatalities may rise further – as more people could be trapped inside.
There were “obstructions” everywhere, and this would have made it difficult to escape.
Firefighters are currently going from floor to floor – and so far, have only worked their way through three of the building’s five storeys.
“Over 20 years in the service, I’ve never come across something like this,” Mr Mulaudzi added.
Some of this inside when the fire began threw themselves out of windows to escape, and may have fallen to their deaths.
Seven of the victims were children – and the youngest was a year old.
The building in the central business district has been described as an “informal settlement” where homeless people had moved in looking for accommodation.
According to witnesses, at least 200 people may have been living there.
People looking for their loved ones have been warned that chances of finding them alive are “very slim”.
One woman looking for her daughter tearfully told reporters: “This is not a place where somebody can live. I was trying to get her to come back home so she could get back to the life she was living before.”
Firefighters evacuated occupants after arriving at the scene – but now, a search and recovery operation is under way. Bodies lay covered on the street.
Authorities said the fire had been largely extinguished, but smoke still seeped out of windows of the blackened building. It took three hours to contain.
Abandoned and rundown buildings are common in the area, and are often used by people desperately seeking accommodation.
They are referred to by officials as “hijacked buildings”.
Strings of sheets and other material hung out of windows – and it is unclear whether people were using them to try and escape.
One person who lives in a nearby building heard people screaming for help and shouting “we’re dying in here”.
The cause is yet to be established – but there are indications that people lit fires inside the building to keep warm.