A fire Tuesday morning at a South Street building damaged apartments and three restaurants. (CBC)

People living in 18 apartments in a 130-year-old Halifax building that caught fire early Tuesday morning are out of their homes for the foreseeable future, while the three restaurants below the apartment units are closed indefinitely.

The Canadian Red Cross has registered 23 tenants who are in need of emergency assistance such as clothing, food and personal-care items, spokesman Dan Bedell said in a release.

The number of people requiring aid will likely increase, he said, because many of the tenants were not home at the 5173 South Street apartment building when the blaze broke out at about 8 a.m.

Bedell said at least eight of the displaced residents may require temporary accommodation, and the nearby Westin Nova Scotian Hotel has offered rooms and meals to some of them for Tuesday night.

Other tenants indicated they will be staying with relatives or friends, Bedell said.

Several pets were evacuated from the building, he said, but some are not accounted for.

Jan Wicha, owner of Café Chianti, said he expects it will be some time before his restaurant can reopen because it suffered smoke and fire damage.

"I have some insurance for the last 30 years. Hopefully, it'll cover the fire, but not the payroll and 20 staff will be unemployed I'm sure for quite a while," he said.

The fire also affected two other restaurants - Taj Mahal and Tomasino's Cellar Ristorante. They also sustained smoke and water damage.

The blaze was put out just before noon. The investigation into the cause continues.

Thousands of homes and businesses were without power Tuesday morning as firefighters battled the blaze.

Tenant Jessica Penny said she awoke to the sounds of crackling and the smell of smoke.

"I grabbed my dog and went next door and buzzed everyone to come out," she said. "My husband called 911."

The first group of firefighters encountered heavy smoke on the 2nd floor. Within minutes, smoke filled the adjacent Taj Mahal restaurant.