The iconic Plasco Building, a fifteen-story concrete and steel-framed building in downtown Tehran, and the tallest building in the city from 1960 to 1963 collapsed earlier this morning in an horrific fire.
The collapse was witnessed by thousands on the ground and recorded live by hundreds of sources.
Though most news stories aren't mentioning it, it is of course impossible not to immediately think of the Trade Center collapse.
In some ways the cases are similar. They both happened on a sunny morning and were witnessed in awe and horror by commuters. In one of the videos, an unseen voice wails in Farsi as the Plasco Building starts to fall. Though I can't say precisely what he said, the conveyed emotion was eerily the same as that expressed in some of the most well-known videos from 9/11.
As with 9/11, I assume this was an unprecedented tragedy for Tehran's firefighters. Reports have varied as to casualties but it's clear that many died.
There's some debate on the internet as to whether or not Plastco had a steel frame. I assume it did as it would be hard to construct a 15-story building without one. It appears as if the fire melted the metal frame past the breaking point.
Of course a fifteen-story "skyscraper" doesn't seem high by modern American standards. And Tehran itself now has many taller buildings and towers. Some of the firefighters were actually able to spray water through the top windows of the building from cranes, and indeed one narrowly missed perishing as the wall collapsed next to his elevated platform.
Obviously, this tragedy was on a much smaller scale than that of 9/11, and today's fire was a "mere" disaster, not a terrorist attack. Many of those in the Middle-East now mourning the Plasco collapse were cheering the collapse of the Twin Towers.
But that makes no difference to the firefighters who died today or their family members.
The building was built by Jewish businessman, Habib Elghanian who named it after his plastics company.
That was in the days when Jews were allowed to build skyscrapers in the Muslim Middle-East.
Elghanian would later be executed for "espionage" in an anti-Jewish purge shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Here is dramatic footage of the collapse on live television:
And here is the latest from Reuters via the Daily Mail:
Troops, rescuers search for trapped firefighters after Iran building collapse
By Parisa Hafezi
ANKARA, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Soldiers, sniffer dogs and rescue workers searched for trapped firefighters and medics treated dozens of casualties after a blazing high-rise building collapsed in downtown Tehran on Thursday.
One witness described the 17-storey commercial building's collapse as like a "scene from a horror movie."
State TV reported that at least 75 people, including 45 firefighters, had been hurt when the building came crashing down in a giant cloud of dust early on Thursday morning.
Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said there were about 25 firefighters trapped under rubble and the semi-official Tasnim news agency said troops had been sent to help dig through the ruins.
One of the first firefighters to be reached shouted "leave me alone, let me go back inside and save my trapped colleagues" as he was brought out, Tasnim reported.
Most of the hurt had been taken to hospital and many were quickly discharged, state TV said.
An electrical short circuit caused the fire, Tasnim said, citing an official in the Tehran governor's office. Reuters could not immediately verify the cause.
Earlier, President Hassan Rouhani had ordered an "immediate investigation" and compensation for those affected.
The building's occupants were evacuated but firefighters had still been trying to control the fire when the building came down.
State TV said the occupants included garment manufacturers and broadcast footage of business owners trying to re-enter the wreckage.
Sniffer dogs searched for signs of survivors buried under giant slabs of concrete and heaps of twisted metal. The rescue operation could last more than two days, state TV said.
The Plasco building in southern Tehran was more than 50 years old. Tasnim said it "had caught fire in the past".
A fire department spokesman told state TV that the building's tenants "had been warned repeatedly in the past months by the municipality to evacuate the building because of safety concerns."
The owner of a nearby grocery store, forced by police to leave the area, told Reuters by telephone that "it was like a horror movie. The building collapsed in front of me."
The semi-official Fars news agency said police had cordoned off the British and Turkish Embassies that are located near the Plasco building.
"The flames could be seen kilometers away from the old building," the Fars news agency reported. (Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Richard Lough)