Iranian tower collapse kills ‘at least 20 firefighters’
Conflicting reports over the death toll following collapse of Tehran’s Plasco building
At least 20 firefighters were killed when a 17-storey commercial building in Tehran collapsed on top of them as they tried to put out a blaze, Iranian state television quoted the city’s mayor as saying on Thursday.
However, there was confusion over the toll, as a fire department spokesman said soon afterwards that there was still a chance of finding them alive.
Soldiers, sniffer dogs and rescue workers are searching the ruins of the Plasco building after it crashed down in a giant cloud of dust.
The collapse was shown live on state television.
One witness described it as “like a horror movie”.
“At least 20 firefighters who were trapped under rubble have died,” mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf said.
“They are martyrs. They lost their lives when trying to help people.”
Mr Qalibaf had earlier said about 25 firefighters were trapped inside the building.
But Tehran fire department spokesman Jalal Maleki told the broadcaster: “I cannot confirm the death of around 20 firefighters . . . The rescue operation still continues. They might still be alive.”
State TV reported: “Still some parts of the collapsed building are on fire. Firefighters are trying to control the fire.”
It also said at least 88 people, including 45 firefighters, were injured in the incident. Most of those hurt had been taken to hospital and many were quickly discharged.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said troops had been sent to help dig through the ruins.
It said one of the first firefighters to be reached had demanded to be let back inside to save his colleagues.
The agency quoted an official in the Tehran governor’s office as saying an electrical short-circuit had caused the fire, but there was no immediate confirmation of this.
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani ordered an immediate investigation and compensation for those affected.
Tehran fire department spokesman Jalal Maleki said the building had collapsed vertically.
“That is why adjacent buildings were not damaged,” he said.
Occupants of the building had been evacuated as the firefighters tackled the blaze.
State TV said the tenants included garment manufacturers.
It broadcast footage of business owners trying to re-enter the wreckage.
It also said the rescue operation could last more than two days.
The Plasco building, Iran’s first private high-rise, was built more than 50 years ago by a prominent Iranian-Jewish businessman who was arrested and sentenced to death for ties to Israel after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Tasnim said it “had caught fire in the past”.
A fire department spokesman told state TV that tenants “had been warned repeatedly in the past months by the municipality to evacuate the building because of safety concerns.
“We had repeatedly warned the building managers about the lack of safety,” Maleki told state TV.
“The building lacked fire extinguishers . . . But the building managers ignored the warnings.“
The semi-official Fars news agency said police had cordoned off the nearby British, German and Turkish embassies.
“The flames could be seen kilometres away from the old building,” it said.