Iran rescuers find three bodies at collapsed building, hopes for survivors fade

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian rescuers have removed three bodies from the rubble of a high-rise building in Tehran that collapsed after a fire, a fire department spokesman said on Saturday, as hopes of finding survivors trapped beneath the shopping mall were fading.

A collapsed building is seen in Tehran, Iran. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

“Because of rekindling fires and the extreme heat..., we feel that it is unfortunately unrealistic that anyone would survive, although our hope is that some may come out alive,” fire department spokesman Jalal Maleki told state television.

The television quoted Maleki as saying equipment used to locate survivors had not given any indications on the third day of rescue efforts.

“The total number of those under the rubble, including the firemen, is a maximum of 25,” Maleki said. “So far, three bodies have been brought out.”

Iran’s top emergency response official put the number of people buried in the building collapse at up to 30, many of them firefighters.

“Based on the available indications, the number of people under the rubble are between 25 and 30,” Esmail Najjar, head of the National Disaster Management Organization, told the state news agency IRNA.

Officials had said on Friday that 25 people were still unaccounted for after the collapse of the 17-storey building on Thursday, in addition to 20 firefighters who were feared dead in the blaze.

At least two of the recovered bodies belonged to firemen and a third injured fireman had died in hospital, state TV reported.

“This is a lesson and a warning for all officials over the security of the lives of citizens, which is a civil right,” President Hassan Rouhani told state TV during a visit to the site of the building on Saturday, declared a day of national mourning.

Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi visited the site of the building and said there were “no indications pointing to sabotage”, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Managers of the building, built 54 years ago, had ignored repeated warnings about poor safety standards and the building’s weak structure, Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf has said.

Authorities have estimated the damage at about $500 million, and said that most of the shops and businesses were not insured because safety standards had not been met.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alistair Bell