The fire erupted in the 40-year-old building in Kaohsiung’s Yancheng district in the early hours of the morning and was extinguished around dawn.
Kaohsiung fire chief Lee Ching-hsiu said firefighters were still going through the building and it looked like the number of dead could exceed 40 people.
Mayor Chen Chi-mai said the building was partly abandoned, having previously been host to restaurants, karaoke lounges and a cinema.
The government is investigating the cause including whether arson was to blame.
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