The Guardian: At least 30 are believed killed and scores injured after blaze engulfs Plasco building, Iranian capital’s oldest high-rise
Dozens of firefighters in Tehran are feared dead after the city’s oldest high-rise building caught fire and collapsed.
The 17-storey Plasco building, a landmark 1960s shopping centre in the heart of the Iranian capital close to the British embassy, caught fire in the early hours of Thursday, the flames initially engulfing upper floors before spreading throughout.
The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, ordered a full investigation into the collapse, dramatic images of which were aired live on state television. The Fars news agency, quoting an unnamed source, reported that 30 firefighters were feared to have died in the blaze and ensuing collapse.
The deaths have not been confirmed. The mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, said: “About 20 to 25 firefighters have been trapped beneath the rubble.” A spokesperson for the rescue operation put the number of those stuck in the ruins as between 30 and 50, the state Irna news agency reported. A group of firefighters were reported to have been inside the building trying to put out the blaze when it collapsed.
At least 70 people were reported to have been injured, many of whom have been taken to hospital. The British embassy was reported to have been evacuated.
The Plasco, considered Iran’s first modern high-rise tower block, housed several businesses involved in the distribution of clothes, a factor which reportedly exacerbated the fire’s rapid spread.
An Iranian journalist who witnessed the incident said the fire, which local media reported started at 7.30am, had soon spread to the lower floors despite attempts to contain it.
“I was in Jomhouri street just by the Plasco at about 8.20am this morning. In the beginning only the upper floors were burning but by 9am, it had spread to lower floors,” the journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian by phone from Tehran.
“Firefighters were trying to stop the fire through a crane because waters from the ground could not reach the upper floors, but they were unsuccessful. The police soon cordoned off the area, particularly from the nearby Istanbul juncture, but it was full of chaos; you could see no crisis management,” she said.
Eshagh Jahangiri, Iran’s first vice-president, visited the rubble scene alongside the country’s health minister and other senior officials. “It was shocking and unbelievable,” Jahangiri said on the state television. “A number of our people, especially our great firefighters, have been trapped. The government is assisting with help from other forces including the military.”
Ghalibaf also went to the scene. “The fire was reported at 7.59am and within two minutes firefighters reached the area,” he said.
Pictures showed shocked firefighters mourning their colleagues after one of the biggest rescue operations in Tehran in recent years. One, seen in photographs taken by the local Tasnim news agency, wept as he knelt on the ground. Another hugged a colleagues who had returned alive from the scene.
The 56-year-old Plasco, which housed 400 businesses, was built by Habibollah Elghanian, a former head of Tehran’s Jewish society, who named the building after his plastics manufacturing company. Elghanian was the first senior member of Iran’s Jewish religious minority to be executed at the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution over allegations of spying for Israel. His death led to an exodus of a considerable number of Iranian Jews abroad, mainly to Israel.
Eghbal Shkeri, a senior official from Tehran’s city council, said previous warnings in regards to the building’s safety had been ignored. “Repeated warnings had been given about the building and its fire control system was very weak,” he said, according to the state-run Iribnews.ir.