The Samoan community in Brisbane mourned 11 dead, including eight children, after an early morning blaze ripped through a two-story house while two families were sleeping.
Three men managed to escape the fire, which broke out in the home after midnight Wednesday in Logan City, south of the Queensland state capital of Brisbane, police Superintendent Noel Powers said. The fire began underneath the house, but the cause was not immediately known.
"Everyone is in shock, there's no words to comfort them at this time," Ranandy Stanley, a Samoan community worker in Logan, told The Wall Street Journal. "At this stage it's just devastating."
Eight children and teenagers were among the dead, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said. Victims ranged between the ages of 3 and 47.
"I've spoken to one man this morning whose wife and five children are unaccounted for," Bligh said. "I don't think anyone could imagine the pain that that would involve."
One man who escaped was taken to a hospital for treatment of facial burns, while a second man remained at the scene despite suffering shoulder injuries. A third man did not appear to be injured, Chief Superintendent Stephen Hollands said.
"This is absolutely heartbreaking to see, and all of our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, family and friends, and the wider communities," Logan Mayor Pam Parker told the Wall Street Journal.
Faiumu Tafeaga said his nephew Misi Matauaina escaped by jumping from a window after his partner woke him up. Matauaina's partner and their two children, aged 3 and 6, were unable to get out, Tafeaga said.
"There was no time to go (back) into the house. He got a few burns," Tafeaga said of his nephew.
'Too much for me'
Elma Hiddleston, who said she was an aunt and cousin of those killed, wept outside the blackened remains of the house.
"I don't believe it really happened," Hiddleston said. "I watched them grow up. Eleven people — it is just too much for me."
Investigators removed the first of the bodies from the house on Wednesday evening. A van carrying the bodies of two children stopped briefly in the street outside the home so family members could offer a prayer. Hundreds of community members lined the road as the van drove away.
Several other bodies remained in the house late Wednesday.
"While there are a number of bodies in one or two locations, the majority are dispersed throughout the house. That's what makes it particularly difficult," Powers said. "We've got to find our way through the rubble, make sure it's safe, and then locate the people as well."
Bligh said counselors were sent to the schools the deceased children attended to help comfort their classmates.
The disaster is Australia's worst building fire in a decade.