WELLINGTON, MAy 16 (CNA) - At least six people have been killed in a fire that tore through a four-storey hostel in the early hours of Tuesday (May 16) in New Zealand's capital.

Towering flames and thick smoke could be seen pouring from the roof of the Loafers Lodge hostel in central Wellington during the night, as 80 firefighters and 20 trucks battled the blaze.

Police and emergency services said that multiple people had died and 52 people had been rescued, with dozens more unaccounted for.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said that the death toll was at least six and the city's mayor said it could be significantly higher.

Firefighters used a ladder truck to save people trapped on the roof, said Fire and Emergency deputy national commander Brendan Nally.

"They plucked quite a few people off the top of the roof from an area directly above the fire," Nally told Radio New Zealand.

"There was no other way. Those people were going to perish, except for the intervention of our team. Multiple people are walking around because of it."

There were no sprinklers in the 92-room hostel and the fire alarm did not go off automatically, Nally said.

"This is a once-in-a-decade fire for Wellington. It’s the worst nightmare for us," district manager commander Nick Pyatt said in a statement.

"This is a tragic event for all involved. My heartfelt condolences go to the loved ones of those who have lost their lives."

Loafers Lodge resident Tala Sili said that he saw smoke coming under his door and opened it to find the hallway full of smoke. He decided to jump out the window and onto a roof two floors below.

"It was just scary, it was really scary, but I knew I had to jump out the window or just burn inside the building," he told state-owned Radio New Zealand.

Another hostel resident, who gave his name only as Chris, told public broadcaster TVNZ that he crawled out of his room to escape through dense smoke.

"It was just getting to the stairwell. It was black as, thick as smoke. It was hard to breathe. Everything's gone. My room's thrashed. I grabbed my vape and my phone instead of my shoes," he said.