According to various sources, at least seventy five people were killed on Thursday morning when a commercial high rise building collapsed due to fire.
Among those killed were at least 50 firefighters responding to the call. The building collapsed onto them as they attempted to fight the flames.
Emergency services, including at least ten fire trucks, are still on the scene at the time this story is being written. The fire continues to burn amid the rubble, though it is now under control. As the building collapsed, it crushed at least three responding fire trucks, and claimed the lives of an as yet uncertain number of people.
At least thirty-eight additional firefighters were hospitalized after the collapse.
The Plasco building contained major shopping centers and was considered one of the most notable landmarks in Tehran, Iran’s capital city. Many shopkeepers attempted to re-enter the building before and after its collapse in an attempt to save their merchandise and valuables, but were successfully restrained by local law enforcement, according to Iranian officials. Contradictory reports have suggested that some shopkeepers managed to slip past the barricade prior to the collapse, but they cannot be confirmed.
“Our landmark monument is gone, right before our eyes,” said Nasrin Sadvand, a Tehran resident who witnessed the collapse.
There were reportedly as many as five hundred and ninety individual shops, stores, and offices housed inside the building before its collapse. The police were not only faced with trying to keep shopkeepers from attempting to enter the structure and later the rubble, they were also met with angry crowds chanting that security forces had arrived too late. Several firefighters at the scene were said to be openly weeping as one man shouted, “My friend is calling me from under the rubble, help him.”
“It was total chaos, there was dust, there were people everywhere. No one knew what to do,” said Nasim Khakpour, a Tehran resident who was shopping in the area at the time.
Firefighters, law enforcement and the local military are actively digging through the rubble in hopes of finding any survivors.
President Hassan Rouhani has ordered Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to immediately begin investigating the cause of the fire, which seemed to be at its worst on the higher levels of the structure. Many shopkeepers use old kerosene heaters inside the structure for heat as well as cooking.
The collapse of the structure was shown on live television as a journalist for a local news program was attempting to interview a witness. One side of the building collapsed first, nearly engulfing a firefighter spraying the structure with water from a ladder, and the rest of the building followed only seconds later. There was no time for anyone inside the building to register the collapse and attempt to escape.
Jalal Maleki, a spokesman for the Tehran fire department explained that ten firehouses had been involved in fighting the blaze, but that the fire department had been to the building previously to warn them of the dangerous conditions they were cultivating in the months leading up to this incident.
“They stacked up material on staircases, which was very awful, although we warned them many times,” he said.
Images courtesy of the European Pressphoto Agency