WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A massive fire at a convention center under construction at a casino complex in Auckland was still spewing thick smoke across New Zealand’s largest city on Wednesday, forcing road closures and keeping workers away almost 24 hours after it started.
The fire had prompted an evacuation of SkyCity Entertainment Group’s entire complex, including hotels, casinos and restaurants when it erupted around lunchtime on Tuesday.
“In the near term we expect to re-open the rest of the precinct tomorrow … we’re hopeful the fire will be contained by tonight,” Graeme Stephens, SkyCity’s chief executive, told a news conference.
Emergency services said there were no injuries from the fire, though a firefighter had been treated after feeling ill at the site on Tuesday. More then 25 fire trucks were on site as firefighters battled the blaze through the night.
Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff told the New Zealand Herald newspaper the center would now likely not be ready in time to host major world leaders and events for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in 2021.
“You have got to believe that has put in jeopardy the ability of the convention center to host the APEC meeting,” he said. Goff said his council would work with the government on a ‘Plan B’ venue.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was set to visit Auckland later on Wednesday.
The construction project, undertaken by Fletcher Building Ltd is valued at NZ$703 million ($452 million) and is the largest underway in New Zealand.
Fletcher Building and SkyCity said the extent of the damage and the next steps would not be known until the fire was extinguished and an investigation could start.
Shares in Fletcher slipped 2.3% to a seven-week low on Wednesday, while SkyCity shares fell 1.2% to a four-month low.
“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,” Fletcher Building said in a statement on New Zealand’s stock exchange, adding it had insurance on the project.
The convention center was originally slated for completion this year but Fletcher had pushed the date back as the project was mired in delays.
Goff said they had been expecting the center to be finished by around August 2020, and the fire damage meant it could now take more than an extra year to complete.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; editing by Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast)
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