istoric high-rise in the heart of Tehran caught fire and collapsed Thursday in a giant cloud of smoke, killing dozens of firefighters who were battling the blaze, Iranian news media reported.
At least 50 firefighters were killed in the collapse of the 17-story Plasco Building, a symbol of modernity that was constructed in the early 1960s, the official IRNA news agency said.
Local news media quoted Tehran emergency operations officials as saying at least 70 people were believed trapped under the wreckage. More than two dozen had been hospitalized.
Rescue dogs were helping search crews hunt for survivors as police cordoned off several blocks in an area populated with foreign embassies just north of the capital’s main bazaar.
President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement asking the Interior Ministry to investigate the cause of the fire, which broke out on the top floors shortly after 8 a.m., while garment merchants were doing business and tour guides were leading visitors through the building.
Television footage and videos circulating on social media captured the shock of Iranians at the scene of the collapse, some bursting into tears, others holding their heads in shock at the loss of an iconic structure.
“This landmark of modernity is gone,” said Siavash Ramesh, a tour guide who was working in the building Thursday morning.
The building was a familiar and beloved part of the low-slung capital’s scattered skyline, erected during a decade of rapid economic growth under Iran’s former monarchy and attached to a large shopping mall.
A rectangular block that seemed drab by today’s standards, it was for a generation of Iranians the tallest and most magnificent high-rise in the country.
It also stood out for its builder: a Jewish plastics tycoon, Habib Elghanian, who was executed in the months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran’s ruling mullahs accused Elghanian, the head of a prominent association of Jewish Iranians, of spying for Israel, which triggered an exodus of Jews from the country.
For some Iranians, the building’s collapse was akin to losing a family member.
“Our landmark monument is gone, right before our eyes,” said Nasrin Sadvand, a Tehran resident who was near the site.
Others saw deeper meaning in the building’s collapse. Ramesh, the tour guide, recalled the story of how a political activist who opposed the ruling theocracy was allegedly dropped from the top of the building by security agents for refusing to disclose sensitive information.
“The building took revenge from the people who misused it,” Ramesh said.