Over 50 Killed, Including Scores of Firefighters, as Iconic Iranian Skyscraper Collapses in Fire

The Plasco building is an iconic presence on the Tehran skyline and was built in the early 1960s by an Iranian-Jewish businessman.

Iranian media says at least 50 people have reportedly been killed, including over 30 firefighters, in the collapse of a burning high-rise building in Tehran.

At least 75 people, including 45 firefighters, were injured as the 17-storey tower collapsed in an event one witness described as like a "scene from a horror movie".

Iconic Iranian skyscraper collapses; over 30 firefighters feared dead IRINN.IR

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Press TV announced the deaths on Thursday in the blaze at the Plasco building, an iconic structure in central Tehran just north of the capital's sprawling bazaar.

Firefighters battle a blaze that engulfed Iran's oldest high-rise, the 15-storey Plasco building in downtown Tehran on January 19, 2017.
HO STR/AFP

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

The fire appeared to be the most intense in the building's upper floors before the collapse. Those floors were home to garment workshops where tailors cook for themselves and use old kerosene heaters for warmth in winter.

The building came down in a matter of seconds, shown live on state television, which had begun an interview with a journalist at the scene. A side of the building came down first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.

A thick plume of brown smoke rose over the site. Onlookers wailed in grief.

Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, said there were "no ordinary civilians" trapped under the rubble. However, witnesses said some people had slipped through the police cordon and gone back into the building.

Among those watching the disaster unfold was Masoumeh Kazemi, who said she rushed to the building as her two sons and a brother had jobs in the garment workshops occupying the upper floors of the high-rise.

"I do not know where they are now," Kazemi said, crying.

In a nearby intersection, Abbas Nikkhoo stood with tears in his eyes.

"My nephew was working in a workshop there," he said. "He has been living with me since moving to Tehran last year from the north of the country in hopes of finding a job."

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to investigate and report the cause of the incident as soon as possible.

He also ordered the ministry to take care for the injured and take immediate action to compensate for those affected by the disaster.

Jalal Maleki, a fire department spokesman, earlier told Iranian state television that 10 firehouses responded to the blaze, which was first reported around 8 A.M.

Several embassies are located near the building. Turkey's state-run news agency, reporting from Tehran, said the Turkish Embassy was evacuated as a precaution, though it sustained no damage in the collapse.

The Plasco building was an iconic presence on the Tehran skyline.
The 17-story tower was built in the early 1960s by Iranian Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian and named after his plastics manufacturing company. It was the tallest building in the city at the time of its construction.

Elghanian was tried on charges that included espionage and executed in the months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the current ruling system to power — a move that prompted many members of the country's longstanding Jewish community to flee.

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The tower is attached to a multistory shopping mall featuring a sky-lit atrium and a series of turquoise-colored fountains.