Shanghai apartment building fire kills 49

08:08, November 16, 2010      

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A trapped person waits for rescue on the apartment building on fire in the downtown area of Shanghai, east China, Nov. 15, 2010. A 30-storied apartment building caught fire on Monday afternoon. As of 3:30 p.m., Firefighters are extinguishing the blaze, and casualties and cause of the accident are under investigation. (Xinhua)

Fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building under repairing in Shanghai Monday, killing 49 people and sending residents scrambling down scaffolding to escape, according to CCTV reports.

The number of injured people is not immediately known. But nearby hospitals have received more than 100 rescued people. The blaze was mostly extinguished at 6:30pm, the statement from the municipal publicity department said.

The fire, the worst in the city in recent years, took more than four hours to put out as crews from 25 fire brigades with 61 fire engines attended the scene.

The Xinhua news agency cited a witness saying the fire began when building materials had caught fire. The blaze spread to scaffolding and then to the 28-story apartment block itself, which houses a number of retired teachers.

The government said more than 100 fire trucks were called to battle the blaze, and streams of water could be seen flowing into the building which was shrouded in plumes of thick black smoke. The fire was largely distinguished four hours later. Firefighters could be seen taking bodies from the building.

Earlier reports put the toll at eight dead and more than 90 injured. The toll had risen by Monday night to 42, the Shanghai government said in a statement.

Photos posted online showed a man clinging to the scaffolding. A resident identified as Zhou told Hong Kong broadcaster Phoenix TV that he and his wife were napping in their 23rd floor apartment when they smelled smoke. He said they climbed down the scaffolding four stories before being rescued by firefighters.

At one point helicopters could be seen hovering over the building, and witnesses said at least one resident was rescued, but thick smoke hampered further efforts. By evening the helicopters were gone. The local government said rescuers continued to search inside the charred building, without saying if anyone was unaccounted for.

Firefighters extinguish blaze on the apartment building on fire in the downtown area of Shanghai, east China, Nov. 15, 2010. Firefighters (Xinhua/Pei Xin)

Xinhua said more than 100 residents had been rescued from the apartments that house 156 families.

A doctor at Shanghai's Jing'an Central Hospital surnamed Zhang said more than 20 seriously hurt people had been admitted for treatment. Most of the survivors had suffered asphyxia from the smoke fumes, another doctor said.

Relatives searched hospitals for their loved ones. At Jing'an hospital, the father of Wang Yinxing, a 30-year-old woman who lived on the 22nd floor of the building, searched a list of survivors at the hospital but could not find his daughter's name.

"She called her husband and said: 'It's on fire! I have escaped from the 22nd floor to the 24th floor,' but then the phone got cut off," the father, Wang Zhiliang, 65, said with tears in his eyes. "That was the last we heard from her."

Shanghai state television showed survivors at another hospital in the city, covered in thick blankets as they emerged from a high-pressure oxygen chamber.

The website cited a construction worker surnamed Qian who escaped from the 28th story as saying crews were installing energy-saving insulation when the fire occurred.

Qian said thick, rolling smoke clouds surrounded the building and the room she was in filled with smoke, making it difficult to breathe, the report said. She said she called the city's emergency hot line and then used a wet towel to cover her mouth and nose as she ran down a fire escape.

Shanghai, a city of 20 million and venue of the recently concluded World Expo, has seen a construction frenzy in recent years, ranging from high rises that dot its skyline to new subway lines, highways and airport upgrades. But unsafe building work remains a chronic problem in China.

Last year, a nearly finished 13-story apartment building in Shanghai collapsed, killing one worker.

People's Daily Online/Agencies


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