Berliner Boersenzeitung - Spanish apartment block inferno leaves at least 9 dead

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Spanish apartment block inferno leaves at least 9 dead
Spanish apartment block inferno leaves at least 9 dead / Photo: JOSE JORDAN - AFP

Spanish apartment block inferno leaves at least 9 dead

Spanish fire crews on Friday picked through a smouldering 14-storey apartment block in Valencia, searching for bodies and clues, after an inferno ripped through the building killing at least nine people.

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Authorities, who declared three days of mourning, said it was unclear if more people were missing and gave no immediate indication for the cause.

Experts said however the building was covered with highly flammable cladding, which could account for the rapid spread of the blaze after it broke out on the fourth floor on Thursday afternoon.

Black smoke rose high in the sky as flames quickly consumed the high-rise of 138 flats in the Campanar district of the Mediterranean port city in eastern Spain, film footage of the horrific blaze showed.

Police have so far found nine bodies, said Pilar Bernabe, the central government's representative in the region, revising down a toll of 10 announced earlier on Friday.

Amid uncertainty over the missing, officials have not ruled out the death toll rising however.

Fifteen people were treated for injuries of varying degrees, including a seven-year-old child and seven firefighters, but their lives were not in danger.

Fire crews on Friday entered the blackened ruin of the residential block, its windows blown out and the once-white facade charred with the residue of smoke and flames.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited the scene and encouraged people to "show empathy, affection and solidarity with the victims, with their families, with those who still do not know exactly what has happened" to their loved ones.

Smoke still wafted from the building though it was quickly blown away by the strong winds, which had fuelled the flames and complicated efforts to douse the blaze.

- 'A catastrophe' -

Local people were stunned, their faces grim with shock.

"Luckily it was at a time when a lot of people were not home, some were working, others had gone to pick up their kids at school," said Juan Bautista, a 70-year-old pensioner who was in a wheelchair.

"If it was later, or at dinner, there would have been many more fatalities."

Slava Honcharenko, a 31-year-old Ukrainian, said he knew several families from his country who lived in the building. They had been relocated to a hotel since Thursday night.

"We feel very bad. We know what it is when you lose your house because we experienced this two years ago in Ukraine," he told AFP.

Spanish media said rescue workers had used drones to locate the dead.

Esther Puchades, deputy head of Valencia's Industrial Engineers Association (COGITI), told local media the fire had spread rapidly because the building was covered with highly combustible polyurethane cladding.

The fire, which started on an intermediate floor, spread within minutes to the entire building, said residents.

Sergio Perez, a 49-year-old driver who lives nearby, said the building burned as if someone had "poured gasoline" on it.

"It's a catastrophe. Unimaginable. It's devastating," he said.

- Dramatic rescue -

As the fire raged, residents could be seen waiting to be rescued on balconies.

Firefighters used a crane to pluck a father and his daughter from a balcony where they were trapped, an operation broadcast live on national TV.

 

Other dramatic footage showed a man jumping several floors onto an inflatable mat to escape the flames.

Valencia has announced three days of mourning and suspended the start of its month-long annual festival.

Faustino Yanguas of the Valencia fire brigade said the material used on the facade of the building would have to be investigated.

It was, he said, "a factor that contributed a lot" to the lightning spread of the flames -- as were the strong winds, with gusts of up to 60 kilometres (40 miles) per hour at the time the blaze broke out.

 

The blaze spread rapidly because of the highly combustible cladding on the block's outside walls. A public inquiry into the disaster has yet to publish its final report.

Valencia's Liga clash at Granada was postponed on Friday as a mark of respect, the football club announced.

A second-division meeting between Levante and Andorra, scheduled for Saturday in Valencia, has also been postponed.

A minute's silence will be observed before each match at the weekend, said La Liga.

(H.Schneide--BBZ)