Monday, November 15, 2010

42 killed in Shanghai as fire surrounds high-rise

Death toll from the fire in a downtown Shanghai apartment block Monday had risen to 42, said a statement from the municipal exposure department. The 28-story building at the traffic circle of Jiaozhou Road and Yuyao Road in Jing'an District was being renovated when it caught fire at about 2:15 pm.

Chinese State Councilor and Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu is speeding up to Shanghai to direct the rescue work. The fire was mostly extinguished at 6:30 pm. Fire fighters are probing for survivors in the building, the statement said. The upper half of the building was beyond the reach of fire appliances, making it hard to put out the fire. The fire was brought under control only after fire fighters set up pipes on top of a nearby building.

The number of injured people is not immediately known. But nearby hospitals have received more than 100 saved people. People keep spilling over to Jing'an District Center Hospital, where more than 50 injured people are being treated, to inquire about their family members. The cause of the fire was as yet mysterious, but a witness said he saw construction materials burning before the fire climbed up the scaffolding and quickly spread. A total of 25 fire units and 61 fire engines were sending out to the scene.

Helicopters were sent to save people trapped on the roof. Residents said the building, built in the 1990s, housed mainly teachers from several schools in Jing'an District, many of whom were go away. Residents of the building and three neighboring apartment blocks had get together in nearby shelters - a school, a stadium and other public facilities, waiting for temporary accommodation arrangements from the rescue headquarters. Evacuees are offered free food, water and medical services in the shelters.
"Construction workers used to litter cigarette butts all around in the building," said a woman surnamed Zhao who lived in the block. She said she had filed several complaints on the fire hazard. Zhao and her family members are staying in Jing'an Sports Center, a stadium in Jing'an district. Many people in the stadium are trying to contact their missing family members. "Such a horrible scene belongs to novels, not real life. I could hardly believe my eyes," she said. When she came back from work after hearing about the fire from a phone call, the building was engulfed by flame and smoke.

A resident surnamed Zhang, who lives on the top floor, said she and a dozen neighbors escaped down the stairs. "At first, I saw smoke belching out of the window and soon the room was engulfed by smoke too," said a woman worker surnamed Qian, who was installing thermal insulation on the 28th floor, and escaped down the stairs.