At least 20 firefighters were killed when a 17-storey commercial building collapsed in Tehran on Thursday, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Tehran's mayor as saying.
"At least 20 firefighters who were trapped under rubble have died," Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf told reporters.
However, fire brigade spokesman Jalal Maleki said he could not confirm the 20 deaths.
He told AFP that they were still being treated officially as missing since no bodies had yet been pulled from the rubble.
Rescue workers, soldiers and sniffer dogs were still hunting for survivors among the debris.
One witness described the 17-storey commercial building's collapse as like a "scene from a horror movie".
Earlier, Iranian state TV reported that at least 75 people, including 45 firefighters, had been hurt when the building came crashing down in a giant cloud of dust early on Thursday morning.
Most of the hurt had been taken to hospital and many were quickly discharged, state TV said.
President Hassan Rouhani had ordered "an immediate investigation" into the cause of the collapse, state news agency IRNA reported.
The building's occupants were evacuated but firefighters had still been trying to control the blaze when it came down.
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.
‘Insufficient fire extinguishers’
The steel skeleton of the building could be seen bending down to the ground as around 100 fire engines and dozens of ambulances surrounded the area.
"A friend of mine has a shop there. I keep calling him but there's no answer. I think he's been trapped," said Mohsen, an onlooker.
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.
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Fire brigade spokesman Jalal Malekias said the building was known to breach safety standards.
"We had repeatedly warned the building managers about the lack of safety of the building," he said, adding that it lacked sufficient 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 told state television.
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 construction boom of later years.
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.
The fire is thought to have begun on the ninth floor and spread quickly to workshops above.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-01-19