0810 GMT January 20, 2018
The Plasco Building caught fire early on Thursday and tumbled down only hours later, trapping some two dozen people under the debris.
Saeid Sharifzadeh, the chief executive of Iran’s Fire Control Organization, said two tunnels were dug into the first and second basement floors.
He said rescuers were, however, yet to reach those trapped there. The relief workers are using technical equipment and sniffer dogs to locate potential survivors.
Barely-above-0° temperatures stand to complicate the rescue operation.
Late Thursday, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said as many as 20 firefighters had died during the disaster.
On Friday morning, IRNA quoted a familiar source as saying that as many as 23 firefighters and some four journalists remain buried under the rubble.
Pirhossein Kolivand, the head of the capital’s Emergency Services, later announced that one firefighter, who had been rushed to hospital for treatment, had died of his injuries after several resuscitation efforts failed to sustain him.
Kolivand also said 84 people had suffered injuries during the collapse, 33 of whom were still hospitalized.
“The relief work is very hard. Removal of debris is going on in all parts of the building but the thick smoke rising from the building is creating serious problems,” he said. “It is still not clear how many people are trapped under the rubble and not even one person has been pulled out.”
Fire department officials have warned of the danger of more explosions, Fars reported.
"We are dealing with fire, thick smoke and lack of oxygen," Kolivand said.
Esmail Najjar, the head of Tehran’s Crisis Management Center, also told ISNA that it was “very unlikely that we will pull anyone out alive from the rubble.”
"These firefighters prevented a disaster. Hundreds of people could have been killed if they had not returned to the building," Tehran Fire Department spokesman Jalal Maleki said.
"The chances of rescuing anyone alive is almost zero."
The government declared Saturday a national day of mourning.
On Thursday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued a message expressing his condolences over the collapse of the iconic building.
The Leader’s message read: “The painful incident of fire and collapse of a building in the center of the city is a source of profound sorrow and concern for me. The valor and sacrifice of those firefighters, who were seriously harmed as they tried to rescue people and went through a difficult test while making committed sacrifice, fills one’s heart with admiration and praise, as well as concern and sorrow.”
Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized that at the present time, all efforts should be oriented to saving those trapped in the rubble, and probing the causes of the incident must be the next step.
The Leader also urged all concerned officials to continue their diligent effort and fulfill their urgent duty without care for any possible gossip.
Reacting to the incident, President Hassan Rouhani tasked the Interior Ministry with launching an immediate investigation into the causes of the tragedy.
“The causes of this incident and those responsible must be determined in the shortest possible time and reported, and every necessary measure must be taken by concerned institutions to attend to the injured and compensate for the losses incurred in the incident,” Rouhani said.
He also issued a message expressing his condolences on the death of firefighters in the Tehran building collapse.
In his message, Rouhani lauded the “epic efforts” made by firefighters who “sacrificed their lives to save their compatriots.”
He also thanked all rescue workers, firefighters, as well as medical, police and military staff, who took quick steps to manage the incident and provide services to the injured.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli inspected the site of the fire and collapse early on Friday.
He has tasked the police force with preventing citizens from crowding the area, as rescue teams operating there are on high alert for possible blasts in the aftermath of the collapse.
Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri and Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi have also visited the site.
As many as 200 firefighters had been deployed to the site to put out the fire.
The building was one of the capital’s oldest high-rises, which housed 600 production workshops, 400 of which were used for the garment industry.
Material damage from the collapse is estimated to stand at around 15,000 billion rials ($463 million).
Foreign governments, including those of Syria, Pakistan, Turkey and Britain, have expressed condolences with the Islamic Republic over the incident.