Fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building undergoing renovations in the center of this city Monday afternoon, killing at least 42 people and injuring at least 90 others in one of the deadliest fires here in years, according to Xinhua, the official news agency. Video posted on the Internet and some online accounts suggested that some residents were trapped on the roof of the building and that a few may have jumped to their deaths. Three helicopters tried to rescue residents from above, but flames and thick black smoke hampered the efforts, Xinhua said. Some people clung to scaffolding; some were able to climb down.
Local officials said the building housed 156 families; and many people remain unaccounted for. Shanghai television said that rescue officials were operating from a command center set up in a nearby stadium, the BBC reported.
The fire raged for more than four hours and more than 60 fire engines responded, the news agency reported, but fire hoses could not reach the upper half of the 28-story building. Only when hoses were set up on top of a nearby building, it said, could the fire be contained.
The cause of the fire had not yet been determined. But the state-run news Web site Eastday.com cited a construction worker as saying crews were installing energy-saving insulation when the fire occurred, The Associated Press reported, and a witness told Xinhua that he saw construction materials burning before the fire.
The reports deepening the unease in this city of 20 million, most of whom live in high rises. Against the backdrop of a nationwide construction boom, buildings all over the city are under construction or renovation.
Scores of survivors were being treated at hospitals for smoke inhalation and other injuries, while relatives desperately hunted for the missing. Many retired teachers lived there, Xinhua reported.
At one hospital, The A.P. reported, the father of a 30-year-old woman who lived on the 22nd floor had tears in his eyes after failing to find her name on a list of survivors. The father, Wang Zhiliang, was quoted as saying: “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. That was the last we heard from her."
Firefighters were similarly frustrated in Beijing in February 2009, when an illegal fireworks show set off a ferocious fire that destroyed one of the Chinese capital’s most architecturally celebrated modern buildings as it was nearing completion. With hoses unable to reach more than about a dozen stories, the 34-story building burned all night. Meant to house a hotel and cultural center, it was part of a complex designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas as the headquarters of the state television network CCTV.
Several officials at the network were severely punished for the blaze, which left one firefighter dead and six firefighters injured, along with two construction workers.