Building in Sao Paulo collapses in fire: At least 1 dead

2018-05-01 21:21
A building on fire is seen in Sao Paulo. (Sao Paulo Fire Department via AP)

A building on fire is seen in Sao Paulo. (Sao Paulo Fire Department via AP)

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An abandoned building occupied by squatters in Sao Paulo caught fire and collapsed on Tuesday, sending chunks of fiery debris crashing into neighbouring buildings and surrounding streets.

Firefighters said at least one person had been killed in the collapse and that there could be more.

The building, a former headquarters of the federal police, caught fire around 01:30 local time. Firefighters set up a perimeter and worked to evacuate people.

A few hours later, as flames engulfed the building of at least 20 stories, it collapsed.

Globo TV, which was covering the fire, captured the destruction. Images showed the floors falling on themselves like dominoes and debris flying in all directions.

Missing people

Romulo de Souza, 49, said he was part of a squatter occupation in the neighbouring building. He said that when the fire began on the fourth floor of the former police headquarters, families began evacuating.

"Happily the majority got out," he said.

De Souza said that residents believed the fire could have been started by a gas leak.

Firefighter Lieutenant Andre Elias told Globo TV that at least one person had been killed in the collapse. Authorities were working to locate several others who were missing.

Clearing debris and accounting for people who had been in the building could likely take days. Three hours after the collapse, smouldering debris continued to emit smoke.

The fire and collapse are sure to put a spotlight on occupations in Sao Paulo, South America's largest city.

Several dozen buildings have been occupied in downtown by highly organised fair-housing groups that take over and then fight for ownership.

Many such dwellings are run like regular apartment buildings, with doormen and residents paying monthly fees and utility bills. Others are less established and more precarious.

Former Sao Paulo mayor Joao Doria, who recently stepped down to run for governor, cracked down on squatter communities as a plan to revitalise the downtown.

Doria argued the downtown should showcase Sao Paulo, the engine of Brazil's economy and one of the hemisphere's most important financial centres.

Fair-housing activists, on the other hand, argue that the area could offer affordable housing to tens of thousands of people.

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