Posted by Danwei on Monday, November 15, 2010 at 8:26 PM
Monday November 15, 2010 — Tessa Thorniley reports from Shanghai
A fire has ripped through a high-rise building in central Shanghai leaving at least eight people dead and more than 90 injured according to official sources. (Update: the death toll is now at 79 - November 17)
The blaze started at lunchtime in a 28-storey apartment block that local residents say is used to house retired teachers.
Witness said scaffolding that surrounded the building in the Jing An district of the city caught fire and then spread to the building.
Xinhua reported that firefighters rescued more than 100 residents from the block on Jiaozhou Lu which houses about 150 families.
However eyewitness at the scene this evening reported seeing bodies being carried out from the smouldering building as rescue workers began their grim task. It suggests that the death toll could be significantly higher.
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Gavin Thomson, a sourcing manager who used to live in the building opposite the fire, said he saw at least six workmen standing on the roof of the building waving hard hats at around 3.15pm but by 4pm there was no sign of the men. He also watched as several residents climbed out of the building and began to climb down the remains of the scaffolding.
“By the time I saw the massive clouds of smoke billowing across Jing An, it was about 2.30pm. When I saw the building, the whole thing was ablaze, with flames flowing out of every window. We could hear explosions as well.
“The local residents were telling me there were definitely people living in that building. Then at about 3.15pm four or five people appeared on the scaffolding that surrounded the building. They were up above the 20th floor. The fire engines tried to get their extendable ladders up to them but they couldn't reach past the 10th floor. I saw people trying to climb down the scaffolding. But they kept being engulfed by the billowing smoke.
“About ten minutes later, six guys wearing hard hats appeared on the roof of the building. They were waving madly, trying to get attention. Perhaps they thought with all the smoke that no one could see them.
“I saw a huge rescue helicopter too. A guy was being winched from the helicopter, perhaps to get a closer look at the building.
“By about 4pm the fire in the lower floors had pretty much been put out. But the top three or four floors were still ablaze. The fire department had managed to get into the next door building and were using hoses just under where the guys in hard hats had been standing.
“We don't know what happened to those guys, the workers. By this time, we couldn't seen them. A guy standing next me who worked in a nearby bank said he was worried that they had inhaled too much smoke. People around me seemed horrified by that thought. Everyone near me went quiet.
“I didn't see anyone leap from the building I saw people climbing down the scaffolding and bits of the building falling off. I couldn't see the West side of the building from where I was standing though.
“Looking at the fire. It looked like the building was coated in oil. I couldn't believe that cement and steel could burn like that.”
Flora Niu, a teacher who runs the Fly Mandarin Chinese language school on Jiazhou Lu, close to the site of the fire, said she heard local residents speculating that a bread shop beneath the residential block had suffered a gas explosion, prompting the fire.
“I don't know what caused it but I heard some people on the streets nearby saying that a bread shop might have had a gas explosion which they tried to put out themselves but then realised they couldn't control the fire. I think it started at about 1pm today.
“It has been terrible. The building has been on fire all afternoon. I think it might collapse. Every floor has gone up in flames.
The morning after; photo by Jon Browning
“The building was under renovation and it was covered in scaffolding and green gauze. The gauze must have just gone up in flames.
“All afternoon we've been hearing gas explosions. We know there are lots of people inside. It's a building for retired teachers – the Jiao Shi Da Lou. There must have been lots of elderly people inside. It's terrible, terrible.
“I think the Shanghai Government has sent every ambulance in the city to fight the fire. We've seen helicopters trying to rescue people from the roof of the building. I think a lot of people went up there to call for help and to be rescued.”
“I can still see the fire from my office window and I keep hearing gas explosions. I don't know where those people who survived will sleep tonight. They must have lost everything.”
Update: The Shanghai Daily reports (November 16, 2010):
Update 2 (November 18, 2010): The official death toll is now 79.
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