A fire swept through a two-story private rehabilitation centre for addicts in Peru’s capital, killing at least 26 people as firefighters punched holes through walls to rescue residents locked inside.

The “Christ is Love” centre for drug and alcohol addicts was unlicensed and overcrowded and its residents were apparently kept inside “like prisoners,” Health Minister Alberto Tejada told AP.

Six men rescued from the building were hospitalised in critical condition, said Peru’s fire chief, Antonio Zavala, adding that most of the victims died of asphyxiation. All the victims appeared to be male.

The local police chief, Clever Zegarra, said the cause of the fire was under investigation. One resident of the centre in Lima’s teeming San Juan de Lurigancho district said he was eating breakfast at 9 am local time on the second floor of the centre when he saw flames coming from the first floor, where the blaze apparently originated.

By early afternoon, all bodies had been removed from the centre. Most of the bodies seen by reporters were shirtless, their faces blackened. Many were also shoeless.

“This rehabilitation centre wasn’t authorised. It was a house that they had taken over... for patients with addictions and they had the habit of leaving people locked up with no medical supervision,” Mr. Tejada said.

Authorities said they did not know how many people were inside the centre at the time of the fire. They said they were looking for the centre’s owners and staff, some of whom apparently fled the scene.

Keywords: fire accident

More In: International | News