SHANGHAI — Fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building undergoing renovations in the center of this city Monday afternoon, killing at least 53 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 that 180 families lived in the building and that many residents were retired teachers, state-run media reported. Many people remained unaccounted for.
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 Minister of Public Security, Meng Jianzhu, said Tuesday that an investigative team working under the State Council, which serves as China’s cabinet, would examine what caused the fire, according to state-run media.
The cause of the fire had not yet been determined. But the state-run news website 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 building, constructed in the 1990s, was nearly covered by scaffolding.
Many residential buildings in Shanghai lack sprinkler systems, but it was not yet known whether there were sprinklers in the building that burned.
“I saw at least four or five people hanging onto the scaffolding which covers the building, screaming for help,” said Li Qubo, who works nearby, according to China Daily, an English-language newspaper. “Firefighters were trying to get closer and use their hoses to cool a path on the scaffolding so that they could climb down and escape.”
The reports deepened 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.
At one hospital, the AP 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.”