Thirty firefighters have been killed after Iran’s oldest high-rise collapsed following a fire.
State television said 200 firefighters had been called to the scene at the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Tehran and ‘tens’ were trapped inside when the building collapsed.
Thirty-eight firefighters had already been injured battling the blaze before it fell during a live TV broadcast.
Dramatic images showed flames pouring out of the top floors of the building, which dated from the early 1960s and included a shopping centre and clothing workshops.
‘The building’s caretaker and some firefighters were inside when the building collapsed,’ said Ahmad, a shop owner in the building.
‘I’ve lost my entire stock. Thousands of families have been ruined,’ he added.
‘A friend of mine has a shop there. I keep calling him but there’s no answer. I think he’s been trapped,’ Mohsen, an onlooker told AFP.
The steel skeleton of the building could be seen crashing down to the ground as around 100 fire engines and dozens of ambulances surrounded the area.
The building came down in a matter of seconds, shown live on state television, which had begun an interview with a journalist at the scene.
A side of the building came down first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.
Police evacuated the area around the building, fearing secondary explosions caused by gas leaks, and worked to clear crowds that were blocking access for rescue services.
Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia said: ‘There a number of people inside but we don’t know how many and the fire brigade organisation is going to announce how many were there. Even one would be too many.’
Fire brigade spokesman Jalal Malekias said: ‘We had repeatedly warned the building managers about the lack of safety of the building.’
He added that the 15-storey building lacked fire extinguishers.
‘Even in the stairwells, a lot of clothing is stored and this is against safety standards. The managers didn’t pay attention to the warnings,’ he explained.
The fire started around 8am (0430 GMT) local time when the majority of shopkeepers were not inside the building.
Firefighters were initially able to bring it under control but it quickly flared up and the building fell four hours after the fire had started, at around 11:30 am (0800 GMT).
The blaze is thought to have begun on the ninth floor and spread quickly to workshops above.
The Plasco building was the first high-rise and shopping centre in Tehran and was the city’s tallest building when it was finished in 1962, before being dwarfed by the more recent construction boom.
It was built by Habibollah Elghanian, a prominent Iranian-Jewish businessman who was arrested for ties to Israel and sentenced to death and executed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.