Updated Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, at 11:55 p.m. EDT: Searchers have now found 33 bodies in the rubble of the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland, Calif., the New York Daily News reports. Some of the victims have been identified, including a 17-year-old, but many are burned beyond recognition, and authorities will need more time to make positive identifications.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and the district attorney’s office said that they are opening a criminal investigation. Authorities said that arson is not suspected, but nothing is being ruled out. The rave was held without a permit.
The News reports that the property is owned by Chor Ng but leased to Derick Ion, the founder of the Ghost Ship Artist Collective, an artist commune described as a labyrinth of studios and living spaces.
Former dwellers of the warehouse reportedly said that tenants regularly came and went, often using illegal hookups for electricity.
In addition to the nine already confirmed dead, firefighters found 15 more bodies overnight, bringing to 24 the death toll from a horrific fire that destroyed an improvised nightclub on Friday, according to the New York Times.
The Times reports that partygoers in the two-story converted warehouse, which held an electronic-music dance party, were asphyxiated Friday night by thick black fumes that poured from the building’s windows for several hours. Because of the difficulty in accessing the building, searching the rest of the building could take days, officials said Sunday at a news conference.
“We will be here for days and days to come," Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County, Calif., Sheriff’s Office said. “We anticipate that the number of victims will rise.”
Kelly said that most of the victims were believed to be in their 20s and 30s, and some were thought to be visitors from other countries.
At a press conference Saturday night, Kelly noted that the recovery process would be slow because of darkness and the unstable infrastructure of the building.
“We have to move slow and judiciously,” Kelly said. “We know there are bodies in there that we cannot get to. … We don’t know how many people were inside when this happened.”
By Saturday afternoon, the Times reports, a list of those missing, compiled by friends and family, had grown to about 35 people.
The building had been under investigation for several months. Officials said that escape from the building, which had only two exits, might have been complicated because the first and second floors were reportedly linked by an “ad hoc staircase made of wooden pallets.”
USA Today reports that the space had illegally been turned into a labyrinth of artists studios and living spaces. An inspector from Oakland’s Department of Planning had attempted to enter the building Nov. 17 in response to complaints of illegal building and blight in the lot next door but was unable to get in.
One survivor, Aja Archuleta, 29, a musician, was scheduled to perform at the electronic music party with her synthesizers and drum machines around 1 a.m. and was working at the door when the fire broke out around 11 or 11:15 p.m.
“There were two people on the first level who had spotted a small fire that was growing quickly,” she said to the Times. “It was a very quick and chaotic build, from a little bit of chaos to a lot of chaos.”
She added, “I have lost 20 friends in the past 24 hours.”