SAO PAULO – At least one person died on Tuesday after a 24-story building collapsed in downtown Sao Paulo during an immense fire that also affected a neighboring property, firefighters said.
The building, formerly a Federal Police headquarters, was occupied by some 50 families of squatters, and at least three people could have gone missing, authorities said.
“There are possibly other victims,” the Fire Department’s Col. Max Mena said in a statement to local media.
The only death yet confirmed is that of a man who was being rescued by firefighters when the edifice collapsed.
“We were trying to save him, but unfortunately he fell quite a distance when the building came crashing down. It was a quick, well done attempt, but we didn’t save him by a matter of minutes,” Mena said.
The flames broke out around 1:30 am and the fire spread to the rest of the floors and affected a neighboring building.
Some 160 firefighters are currently in the area to fight the flames in the second building, which was evacuated and at present runs no risk of collapse.
When one of the buildings came crashing down it also damaged the structure of a nearby church,
Sao Paulo Gov. Marcio Franca said the building’s collapse was a “foreseeable” tragedy due to its poor condition, and spoke of the ongoing “judicial” battle to try to remove the squatters who live in such buildings.
“Dwellings like this are uninhabitable. People staying here are just looking for problems. Thank God we got here in time today, but it won’t always be like that,” Franca said.
In this building, Fire Department spokesman Capt. Marcos Palumbo said, “the elevators had been removed. So those tubes of air once occupied by elevators turned into chimneys. There was a lot of combustible material... wood, paper, a situation that made the flames spread rapidly.”