Fire still burning at New Zealand convention centre despite firefighters working through night

Thick smoke billows from a construction site at the SkyCity convention centre in Auckland on Oct 22, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - A fire was still burning at a convention centre under construction in Auckland on Wednesday (Oct 23) even after firefighters worked throughout the night to quell the blaze.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told workers to stay away from the city centre.

There was no immediate official word on the cause or how many people had been at the site when the fire broke out.

"Overnight, the fire continued to burn through the roof," Fire and Emergency New Zealand said in a statement, adding that there were 26 fire trucks working to fight the blaze, which started on Tuesday afternoon.

Owned by New Zealand casino operator SkyCity Entertainment Group, the construction project, valued at NZ$703 million (S$613 million) is considered by analysts to be the largest currently under way in New Zealand and was set to host events for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) in 2021.

Fletcher Building, which is building the centre, said in a statement to New Zealand's stock exchange that it would carry out an investigation on the cause of blaze and extent of the damage once the fire was extinguished.

"Once the extent of the damage is known, the company will be able to determine the impact on the project delivery timeline, in consultation with SkyCity. It is expected there will be a material delay," it said.

Transport services and local government warned that commuters in New Zealand's largest city would face heavy delays on Wednesday morning and advised them to stay away from the city centre due to heavy smoke.

"Fire is still burning. The smoke is extensive. Please stay away from the city if you can and listen to the advice from emergency services," Mr Goff said on Twitter.

He told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that the centre would now likely not be ready in time to host major world leaders and events for the Apec meeting in 2021 and his council would work with the central government on a "Plan B" venue.

"You have got to believe that has put in jeopardy the ability of the convention centre to host the Apec meeting," he said.

The convention centre was originally slated for completion this year but Fletcher had pushed the date back, as the project was mired in delays. Mr Goff said they had been expecting the centre to be finished by around August 2020, and the fire damage meant it could now take more than an extra year to complete.

SkyCity and emergency services said that there were no injuries from the fire.

Some media reports said an injured firefighter was admitted to hospital, but Reuters could not verify this independently.

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