Three sisters orphaned after a horror house fire in South Canterbury this morning are "very scared" and mourning the loss of their parents and younger brother.
Tej Kafle, 49, wife Tika, 38, and the youngest of their four children, 9-year-old Pream, perished in a blaze that engulfed their five-bedroom flat above their Everest Indian Restaurant in Waimate this morning.
The Queen St fire, in what was the old Savoy Tearoom and Bakery building, broke out about 7.40am.
Sisters Tulsi, 23, Manisha, 16, and Mamata, 12, managed to escape on to a balcony.
Two young "gutsy" co-workers of Tulsa at the nearby New World supermarket tried to help them, fire officials said.
The three sisters are now recovering at Timaru Hospital after being treated for minor injuries including smoke inhalation.
Tej Kafle's brother, Bishnu Kafle, has travelled to the hospital from Christchurch after being informed of the tragedy this morning by his mother.
"I must look after these three girls. They are very scared, and crying. They are safe now," he said.
Tej came to New Zealand from Nepal in 2005, said Bishnu, who emigrated himself in 2005.
Tej originally settled in Greymouth before going to Christchurch. After the earthquakes, he moved to Waimate.
His wife of 25 years and four children followed him three years ago. They recently got residency.
The family set up the Indian restaurant about 18 months ago and were well settled in the region.
Tulesi worked at the New World supermarket in the bakery.
Pream attended Waimate Main School with Mamata.
Bishnu said his brother was "a very good man".
"He always helps me and helped everybody," he said.
"My brother and sister-in-law will be very deeply missed."
He thanked the supermarket workers who tried to rescue his family.
"I am in shock."
Binita Bhujel, a local Nepali woman who works at a nearby farm, said said there were "seven or eight" Nepalese families living in the area.
They are now gathering to "support the girls".
"We are all united together," she said.
"We are shocked. Never thought this would happen here.
"We came to the restaurant a lot of the time. They were very friendly, good people."
Waimate mayor Craig Rowley, who also owns a jewellery store in the building, said the tight-knit rural community was rallying together.
A body, which had lain beneath a blue tarpaulin on the verandah outside one of the ashen window frames, was recovered by firefighters and police staff at 2.30pm.
A spokeswoman for South Canterbury District Health Board said the three sisters remained at Timaru Hospital in stable conditions.
A Everest Mayoral Support Fund has been set up at Waimate ANZ Bank for anyone who wished to make a donation.
He kickstarted the fundraising drive with $500 from his Mayoral Discretionary Fund.
Mr Rowley said offers of help have already been flooding in from members of the community and local community groups.
"It's great to see people putting donations in already, it's quite remarkable," he said.
The triple tragedy would have a large effect on the community, Mr Rowley said.
"It is tragic for the family, tragic for the community. But as always with a small community, they rally around together.
"We need to support them and do everything we can to help them out.
"It is shocking, you couldn't ask for anything worse than for three of your community members to be killed in a fire. We'll work through it and come out the other side."
Some people making donations may have run into difficulties.
Waimate's mayor's office had initially sent out the wrong bank account number.
A spokeswoman said any payments would have been unlikely to make it through as the number provided had an extra 0, making it invalid.
The right account number is 01 0893 0081636 00
How you can help
Waimate's mayor has set up an account at the Waimate ANZ Bank
The account is called the Everest Mayoral Support Fund
People can donate directly into the account at ANZ 01 0893 0081636 00.
People can also go into the branch at 56 Queen Street, Waimate to make a donation
- Additional reporting by the Otago Daily Times