TEHERAN • Iranian officials said yesterday they were losing hope of pulling any survivors from the rubble of a collapsed high-rise where around 20 firefighters are feared to have lost their lives.
Rescue workers, soldiers and sniffer dogs were still frantically searching through the wreckage of the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Teheran, which collapsed on Thursday after a four-hour blaze.
But smouldering fires and smoke were complicating the search, and so far no survivors or bodies had been found. "It is very unlikely that we will pull anyone out alive from the rubble," head of Teheran's crisis management centre Esmail Najjar told the Isna news agency. "Our goal is to recover the bodies of these martyrs without causing any damage to the bodies."
The high-rise was Iran's oldest, with a shopping centre and hundreds of clothing suppliers.
"The removal of debris is more difficult than removing debris from a major earthquake because we are dealing with fire, smoke and lack of oxygen," said a Red Crescent official.
"It is still not clear how many people are trapped under the rubble and not even one person has been pulled out," added Teheran emergency services director Pir Hossein Koolivand.
Iranians were in shock over the apparent loss of so many firefighters. State television placed a black banner across the corner of the screen as a sign of mourning, and social media were full of messages of praise and condolence for the emergency services.
"If the firefighters had not been there in time, if they had not searched inside to evacuate people, we would have had hundreds under the rubble instead of 20 firefighters," said brigade spokesman Jalal Maleki.