TOKYO, Sept 16: At least three people died and more than 40 were injured on Tuesday when a disgruntled worker started a blaze at an office block in Japan after taking eight people hostage.

Police said Noboru Beppu, 52, a contract worker for a courier firm who had entered the company’s fourth floor office demanding payment of unpaid wages, was among the dead.

Mr Beppu was armed with a knife and a bow and arrows and had sprayed fuel around the premises threatening to set fire to the office in Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city, 270kms southwest of Tokyo.

Police said eight employees were taken hostage after female staff were allowed to leave, but seven of the men were freed moments before an explosion engulfed the office in a fireball.

The blast shattered windows and sent glass flying onto police, emergency services, journalists and onlookers in the street below.

Fire and police departments said the branch manager of Keikyubin, the courier firm, was killed in the blast and a 31-year-old police official died of injuries in hospital.

A police spokesman said 41 people were injured, five of them seriously, including three police officials.

Dramatic television pictures showed a man hanging perilously out of a window trying to reach a fireman’s ladder and help another badly burned man onto it.

Both were believed to be among the 20 policemen reported to be in the building at the time of the blast, although neither fire nor police could confirm the men’s identities.

Earlier a fire department official said the injured also include at least two firefighters, four journalists and seven members of the public, but none of them were seriously hurt.

Aichi prefectural police said Beppu had entered the office shortly after 10am demanding payment of unpaid wages.

The huge explosion, caught by television cameras which had been monitoring the hostage situation, happened shortly after 1pm, blowing out the windows and showering glass and documents onto the street.

Black smoke belched from the office as fire hoses were immediately directed into the shattered windows. It took about two hours to extinguish the fire completely.

One male employee sustained a slight injury to his neck after he tried to restrain the man, police said.

Mr Beppu’s neighbours described him as a quiet and well-behaved man, expressing shock at his audacity, according to Jiji Press.

In March, a Japanese court handed a death sentence to a man who spread fuel oil and burned a consumer loan office in 2001, killing five workers and injuring several others at the office. —AFP