33 dead in suspected arson attack on Japan animation studio

Firefighters work as smoke billows from a three-story building of Kyoto Animation in a fire in Kyoto on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
Updated 18 July 2019

33 dead in suspected arson attack on Japan animation studio

  • Fire started in three-story building in Japan’s ancient capital
  • Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni, was founded in 1981 as an animation and comic book production studio

TOKYO: A suspected arson attack at an animation production company in Japan killed 33 people and injured dozens more on Thursday, after a man reportedly doused the building with flammable liquid and shouted "drop dead."

A motive for the apparent attack remained unclear hours after the blaze. If arson is confirmed, the attack will be among the deadliest criminal acts in decades in Japan, where violent crime is extremely rare.

The fire gutted the three-storey building in the city of Kyoto that housed Kyoto Animation, behind famous anime television productions.

The incident sparked an outpouring of support from the industry and fans worldwide, including a viral fundraising campaign. Late Thursday evening, a local fire department official said the toll stood at 33 dead. "Of the 33, two were found on the ground floor, 11 on the second and 20 on the third and also on the staircases that lead to the rooftop," the official told AFP.

Another 36 people were injured, including 10 in serious condition, he said, adding that all those inside the building during the blaze were now accounted for.

The horrific fire appeared to have been set in the middle of Thursday morning, with the fire department saying they began receiving emergency calls around 10:30am. The blaze left people with serious wounds, eyewitnesses said.

"I saw people who were totally black or covered in blood, or who had suffered burns all over their body," a 53-year-old woman told the Kyodo news agency. As the fire gutted the building, it sent thick white smoke out through the windows, and the flames charred the facade black before firefighters were eventually able to tame it hours after it began.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took to Twitter to express his horror. "It's so dreadful that I'm lost for words," he wrote. "I pray for those who passed away." Police said they were still investigating the cause of the fire but that it was a suspected arson attack. "A man threw a liquid and set fire to it," a Kyoto prefectural police spokesman told AFP. Public broadcaster NHK reported that a man had been detained in connection with the blaze and was later taken to hospital for treatment.

He reportedly suffered serious injuries in the fire. NHK said the suspect had poured a gasoline-like substance around the building and said "drop dead" as he set fire to it.

The eyewitness who spoke to Kyodo said one of the injured "claimed to have been splashed with kerosene or something like it". Local media reported that the suspected attacker appeared to also have been armed with knives. Kyoto Animation's president Hideaki Hatta told reporters "there have been emails with death threats", without giving further details. He said the building gutted by the blaze was "the core of the company", which has produced several well-known television anime series including "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" and "K-ON!"

"It's unbearable that those who have led Japan's animation industry were hurt and lost their lives." The blaze prompted an outpouring of support from those in Japan's anime industry, one of the country's best known cultural exports, and fans around the world. "No, I don't know what I should be thinking now," tweeted Yutaka Yamamoto, an animation director who once worked at Kyoto Animation.

An online fundraiser organised by an American anime licensing firm had raised more than $420,000 by late Thursday night, and anime fans around the world were tweeting their support with the hashtag #KyoAniStrong and #PrayForKyoAni. Japan has a famously low crime rate. Arson is considered a serious crime and people convicted of deliberately setting fires in a country where many people still live in wooden houses can face the death penalty.

A man convicted of setting a fire that killed 16 people in Osaka in 2008 is currently on death row. In 2016, a knife-wielding man went on the rampage at a care home for the mentally disabled, killing 19 in the country's worst mass killing in decades.


Rescuers search rubble of building destroyed by quake in southern Philippines

Updated 16 December 2019

Rescuers search rubble of building destroyed by quake in southern Philippines

  • Authorities placed the death toll a two, including a woman in her 70s and a 6-year-old
  • Another 84 people were injured in the magnitude 6.9 quake, police say

DAVAO, Philippines: Search and rescue efforts continued Monday at a three-story building in the southern Philippines that collapsed in a strong earthquake.
The Bureau of Fire Protection said six people have been rescued from the rubble of the Southern Trade Shopping Center in Davao del Sur province’s Padada town since Sunday’s magnitude 6.9 quake.
Officials have yet to give an estimate of how many people may be inside the building, which housed a grocery story.
Army troops, police and firefighters were all involved in the search operation.
The Bureau of Fire Protection said the death toll from the quake had climbed to two, after a woman in her 70s was found to have had a heart attack during the quake. A 6-year-old was earlier reported killed after a wall collapsed.
Another 84 people were injured in the quake, officials said.
Television footage early on Monday showed fire and rescue personnel using torches to search the outside of the shopping center, a small two-story building, in darkness. Roads were blocked by rubble and mangled metal.
There were widespread power outages and minor damage to more than 300 homes and eight government buildings, according to the disaster agency’s report late on Sunday.
President Rodrigo Duterte and his family were in Davao City when the quake struck some 61 km (38 miles) away, but were not harmed.
Four towns and one city near the quake were still without power Monday, and school was canceled in a broad area to give time for inspections of the buildings.
The Davao region has been hit by several earthquakes in recent months, causing some deaths and scores of injuries and badly damaging houses, hotels, malls and hospitals.
The Philippine archipelago lies on the so-called Pacific “Ring of fire,” an arc of faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur. It’s also lashed by about 20 typhoons and other severe storms each year, making the Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 million people one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.