44 missing after building collapses in Sao Paulo

Updated 2018-05-03 00:42:17 Xinhua

Forty-four people on Wednesday remained missing one day after a fire destroyed an abandoned 26-story office building in downtown Sao Paulo in southeastern Brazil, local authorities said.

The Wilton Paes de Almeida building, formerly police headquarters, caught fire in the early hours of Tuesday and suddenly crashed down completely about one and a half hours afterwards.

It was then being occupied by more than 140 homeless families, an estimated total of 372 people, officials said.

More than 100 firefighters are continuing to search for survivors with drones installed featuring thermal imaging cameras trying to locate people buried under the debris.

So far, 44 squatters are still unaccounted for, said Sao Paulo's fire department. It is believed that they may have been inside the building when it collapsed. One man who was rescued is the only one confirmed to have then been inside the building.

The fire had spread to two neighboring buildings and a church, which was partially destroyed. There have been no reports of victims from other buildings.

The cause of the Sao Paulo building fire remains unknown. There were reportedly no basic fire prevention measures in the abandoned building which was built in the 1960s.

Media reports said the fire started in the fifth floor of the building and spread quickly due to the many wooden walls.

The presidential office issued a statement saying President Michel Temer ordered National Integration Minister Antonio de Padua de Deus to "direct all efforts to minimize the damages" caused by the tragedy.

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