November 16, 2010 – 10:53AM
Fire engulfs Shanghai high-rise tower
Fire tears through a Shanghai high-rise apartment building, killing at least eight people and injuring scores more.
A fire engulfed a Shanghai high-rise building on Monday, killing almost 50 people as panicked residents stumbled over each other to escape while thick smoke spread across China’s commercial hub.
The 28-storey building in one of the most densely populated districts of the city of nearly 20 million people was under renovation when the blaze broke out after lunchtime.
Bright orange flames enveloped scaffolding and spread to the building as the fire raged, gutting much of the structure. The smoke could be seen from several kilometres away.
Photos released by state media showed residents clinging to the scaffolding to escape the flames, while in other images a helicopter lowered a rescuer onto the roof.
The official Xinhua news agency said at least 42 people died, citing a statement from the municipal government. It said the total number of injured was unknown, but more than 100 had been taken to hospital.
However, state broadcaster China Central Television reported the death toll had risen to 49, today, without saying where it got the information.
An investigation team under the State Council, China’s cabinet, has been set up to investigate.
A woman who lived in the block, identified only by her surname Zhao, told Xinhua she had filed complaints about construction workers dropping cigarette butts around the building.
Survivor Li Xiuyun, 61, said she fled down the steps of the building with her husband, son and granddaughter from their home on the 16th floor until they met firefighters who took them to safety.
“The smoke was very strong and the glass from the windows was scalding,” she told AFP at the Jingan District Hospital, adding that she cut her feet on shattered glass as she fled.
“My son took off his socks and soaked them with water, and we used them to cover our noses. I stumbled on people on the floor when walking.”
The building was an apartment block for teachers, Xinhua said. Reports said most of them were retired.
State television footage showed people, their faces smudged by soot, stumbling out of the building grimacing in pain, with rescue services helping them.
A resident identified only by her surname, Zhang, told Xinhua she lived on the top floor, and escaped down the fire exit stairs with a dozen neighbours.
A worker surnamed Qian said she was laying thermal insulation on the 28th floor and she also ran down hundreds of steps.
“At first, I saw smoke belching out of the window and soon the room was engulfed by smoke too,” she told Xinhua.
The woman named Zhao told the agency: “Such a horrible scene belongs in novels, not real life. I could hardly believe my eyes.”
The upper half of the block was beyond the reach of the firefighters’ appliances, Xinhua said, and they only brought the blaze under control after setting up hoses on top of a nearby building.
Firefighters eventually extinguished the blaze after 4½ hours and torch beams could be seen in the darkness afterwards as rescuers searched the building’s upper levels.
A total of 156 families lived in the building, municipal officials said in a statement.
Residents said the renovations had begun only recently and most inhabitants were still living in the building.
Xinhua said 61 fire engines and three helicopters were used to tackle the blaze.
Residents were evacuated to a nearby stadium where rescue officials set up a command centre, Shanghai television said.
AFP, Bloomberg News