Emergency crews in Brazil search rubble for missing after building collapse

Latin America

Firefighters work to extinguish the fire in a building that collapsed after catching fire in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 1, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nelson Almeida)

In the early hours of Tuesday, the high-rise Wilton Paes building in São Paulo collapsed in a thick cloud of smoke and dust, after it became engulfed by fire. It’s been days since the incident, and smoke is still coming out of the rubble.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral reports.

Firemen have been spraying the area with water while heavy machinery removes the upper layers of debris, so workers can perform a more detailed search.

It unlikely survivors will be found, but the fire department has said the protocol for now is to work under the assumption victims may be there. The building was occupied by a number of squatters.

“Forty-eight hours after the incident, we brought in the heavy machinery that now is removing rubble in places that have already been checked by our teams,” said fire department spokesman, Lt. Andre Elias.

Recovery teams are working non-stop in a search for victims, but the number of people missing remains uncertain as many of the squatters who lived in the building were not formally registered. It’s unclear how many were in the building when it collapsed.

Survivors have said there are almost 50 people unaccounted for, like Nigerian immigrant Charles Wesley.

“I had gone to a birthday party with our child on Monday night but he decided to stay. Then in the early hours of Tuesday, a friend called to say there was a fire in our building. I have been trying to call my husband since then but he doesn’t answer. He was in the building. I think he’s dead,” said Wesley’s wife, Christiane de Paula.

Some of those who lived in the building are now camping in a nearby square. Donations of food and clothing have been coming in but the survivors have nowhere to go.

“What we need now is city authorities to say what they can do to help us so we can go on with our lives”, said Sergio Mendanha, who had been living in the Wilton Paes building for about a year.

The São Paulo state security secretary said a short circuit in the fifth floor of the building was the cause of the fire that ultimately led to its collapse.

The incident is a reminder of the precarious housing situation faced by many in Brazilian big cities, who seek shelter in unused and often derelict buildings.