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Fatalities feared after Iran's oldest high-rise collapses

Smoke rises from Plasco Building after it was hit by a massive blaze in downtown Tehran, Iran, on January 19, 2017. (Photo by Tasnim)

Iran's oldest high-rise in downtown Tehran collapsed on Thursday morning following a major fire in the building, leaving many firefighters buried under rubble, some of who are presumed dead.

While Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf had earlier said 20 firefighters lost their lives trying to contain the flames, Tehran Fire Department spokesman, Jalal Maleki, told the state TV that although a number of firefighters were presumed dead, no final figure could be given on fatalities.

He, however, was quoted by the IRIB News Agency as confirming the 20 fatality figure, emphasizing that this was not a final figure because a number of firefighters were trapped under the rubble as rescue operation to get them out continued.

Fire engulfs Plasco Building before its collapse in Tehran, Iran, January 19, 2017. (Photo by Tasnim)

Meanwhile, Tehran’s Governor General Hossein Hashemi said rescue workers were opening three separate routes in order to access those trapped below the debris from the collapsed building.

“Unfortunately, following this heart-wrenching incident, 25-30 firefighters have been trapped below the rubble,” he added.

The official noted that no accurate figure on casualties could be provided as far as rescue operations have not been finished.

Mojtaba Khaledi, the spokesman for the country's emergency services, told IRNA that 84 people were injured and 33 were initially hospitalized, 23 of whom were discharged after treatment for less severe injuries.

The 17-story structure crumbled after the fire engulfed the top floors of the building in downtown Tehran as scores of firefighters battled the blaze.

Iranian firefighters gesture after the fatal fire that led to the collapse of Plasco Building, Tehran, Iran, January 19, 2017. (Photo by Tasnim)

Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours before the collapse as police kept out shopkeepers and others trying to rush back in to collect their valuables.

Rescue operations are underway after a deadly building collapse in downtown Tehran, January 19, 2017. (Photo by Tasnim)

The Fars news agency said a firefighter had texted a message to a colleague, saying he was alive and trapped with several others at the building's mechanical room.

Rescuers are reportedly trying to reach those trapped under the rubble by tunneling into the mechanical room from an adjacent building.

Iran's Leader expresses condolence over building collapse

Later on Thursday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issues a message expressing his condolence over collapse of the iconic building in downtown Tehran.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei

The Leader’s message read, “The painful incident of fire and collapse of a building in the center of the city is source of profound sorrow and concern for me. The valor and sacrifice of those firefighters, who were seriously harmed as they tried to rescue people and went through a difficult test while making committed sacrifice, fills one’s heart with [a sense of] admiration and praise as well as concern and sorrow.”

Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized that at the present time, all efforts should be oriented to saving those trapped below the rubble, and probing the causes of the incident must be the next step.

The Leader also urged all concerned officials to continue their diligent effort and fulfill their urgent duty without care for any possible gossip.

Rouhani issues condolence message, orders ‘swift probe’

Reacting to the incident, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tasked the Interior Ministry with launching an immediate investigation into the causes of the tragedy.

“The causes of this incident and those responsible must be determined in the shortest possible time and reported, and every necessary measure must be taken by concerned institutions to attend to the injured and compensate the losses incurred by those damaged in the incident,” Rouhani said.

President Rouhani also issued a message expressing his condolences on the death of firefighters in Tehran building collapse.

Iranian firefighters gesture after the fatal fire that led to the collapse of Plasco Building, Tehran, Iran, January 19, 2017. (Photo by Tasnim)

In his message, Rouhani lauded the “epic effort” made by firefighters, who “sacrificed their lives to save their compatriots.”

He also thanked all rescue workers, firefighters as well as medical, police and military staff, who took quick steps to manage the incident and provide services to the injured.

Rouhani also asked God’s mercy and forgiveness for those who lost their lives in the building collapse.

Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri and Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi have also visited the site.

“The administration stands by the nation, and all relevant bodies have been mobilized to save the injured,” Jahanigiri told reporters.

Ghazizadeh Hashemi, for his part, said all hospitals and medical emergency centers in the capital were on high alert and fully prepared to provide aid to those wounded in the blaze and the ensuing building collapse.

Rescue operations at the site of the high-rise collapse in Tehran, January 19, 2017 (Photo by Mehr)

'Fire caused by problem in electric circuit'

Meanwhile, Mohsen Hamedani, a security official with Tehran Governor General's Office, said initial investigations suggest that the fire had been caused by a short circuit in the electrical system of the building, Tasnim news agency reported.

"Reports that the blaze was of a security nature are not correct and the incident was the result of totally natural causes," he added.

The building came down at around 11:30 a.m. local time (0800 GMT), which was shown live on state television.

A side of the building buckled first, tumbling close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.

​Nearby buildings including the embassies of Turkey, Germany and the UK have been evacuated. Authorities at Tehran's governor's office have ruled out terrorism.  

The tower was inaugurated in 1962 and named after a plastics manufacturing company. It was the tallest building in the city at the time of its construction. It included shopping centers and clothing workshops.

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