11 PACIFIC ISLANDERS FEARED DEAD IN BRISBANE FIRE

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Shaken witnesses call it worst tragedy

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Aug. 24, 2011) – Police say a "tragedy on an unimaginable scale" is unfolding south of the Queensland capital Brisbane, where 11 people - mainly members of two Pacific Islander families - are feared to have died in a huge house fire.

Neighbours say they were woken by loud explosions and screaming as fire ripped through the house at Wagensveldt Street in Kingston, Logan City. Thirteen people were inside the house as the flames took hold - only two men escaped. Neighbours say the two families living in the home were from Tonga.

Logan Police Superintendent Noel Powers described the fire as "beyond belief", a "total catastrophe", and a "tragedy on an unimaginable scale." He said "multiple deceased people" had been found inside the house but said crews were still working to make sure the gutted building was safe before starting the grim task of recovering bodies.

"We're trying to come to terms with what's happened," he said. "We still can't provide a really accurate picture of what's happened. People are very, very distressed, very, very distraught. Unfortunately, we have got quite a number of people who appear to have died as a result of this fire... quite a significant tragedy is unfolding."

Dozens of police and fire crews [were] on the scene and the street is closed while investigations are underway.

Neighbour Deanna Butler says there seemed to be a lot of children living at the house.

"I looked out the window and I saw a house on fire and that's when I jumped out of bed and grabbed my phone and rang for the fire brigade," she said. My daughter yelled out fire, fire - I knew it was something serious. I knew there was lots of children out in the yard when I've walked past here before."

TV news cameraman Eddie Norbido says the scene is shocking.

"It's the worst fire I've ever been to in my entire 32 years in the business and to see these poor people suffer this tragedy is very unsettling," he said.

Distressed locals have gathered at the scene.

"To hear them - I hate even having to say this - but to hear them crying and that just really got to me and it'd get to anyone who was there," Mr Norbido said.

Superintendent Powers said the cause of the fire is unknown, but early investigations suggest there are no suspicious circumstances.

Fire and Rescue Service Acting Chief Superintendent Peter Ryan says the fire had already taken hold when fire crews arrived.

"The building was well involved in fire when fire crews arrived - they arrived within five minutes of the fire call being received," he said. "They witnessed that the total structure was involved in fire."

One of the men who escaped is being treated for burns.

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