A 17-storey commercial building in Tehran engulfed by fire collapsed on Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters and injuring some 75 people, state media reported. Firefighters, soldiers, sniffer dogs and other emergency responders dug through the rubble, looking for survivors.
The disaster struck the Plasco building which came crashing down in a giant cloud of dust. One witness described it as “like a horror movie”. The building represents an iconic structure in central Tehran just north of the Iranian capital’s sprawling bazaar.
An estimated 25 firefighters were trapped in the ruins while they were trying to put out a blaze, the mayor of Tehran said.
Iranian authorities did not immediately release definitive casualty figures, which is common in unfolding disasters.
Iran’s state-run Press TV announced the firefighters’ deaths, without giving a source for the information.
Fars News Agency reported that 20 firefighters died in the building collapse.
Local Iranian state television said 30 civilians were injured in the disaster, while the state-run IRNA news agency said 45 firefighters had been injured.
Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf denied speculation on social media that dozens of people had been killed. “The reports on 30, 50 fatalities are incorrect. Around 25 firefighters are trapped inside and rescue teams are trying to take them out,” he told state television.
The broadcaster reported: “Still some parts of the collapsed building are on fire. Firefighters are trying to control the fire.” Most of those hurt had been taken to hospital and many were quickly discharged, it said.
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.
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, and broadcast footage of business owners trying to re-enter the wreckage.
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.”