A fire engulfed a Shanghai high-rise building Monday, killing eight and injuring 90, as panicked residents stumbled over each other as they fled and thick smoke spread over China's commercial hub.
The 28-storey building in one of the most densely populated districts of the city of nearly 20 million people was under renovation when the blaze broke out around lunchtime. Spectacular bright orange flames could be seen enveloping the scaffolding and spreading to the building as the fire raged, gutting much of the structure.
The smoke could be seen from several kilometres (miles) away. Survivor Li Xiuyun, 61, said she fled down the steps of the building with her husband, son and a granddaughter from their home on the 16th floor until they met up with firefighters who took them to safety.
"The smoke was very strong and the glass from the windows was scalding," she told AFP at the Jingan District Hospital, adding that she cut her feet on shattered glass when fleeing. "My son took off his socks and soaked them with water, and we used them to cover our noses. I stumbled on people on the floor when walking."
The building was an apartment block for teachers, according to the official Xinhua news agency. Reports said most of them had already retired.
Some occupants could be seen in state media photos clinging to the metal scaffolding surrounding the building, trying to escape the flames. Other pictures showed a helicopter lowering a rescuer down to the roof.
State television footage showed people, their faces smudged by soot, stumbling out of the building grimacing in pain, with rescue services helping them.
Firefighters eventually extinguished the blaze after four and a half hours and torch beams could be seen in the darkness afterwards as rescuers searched the building's upper levels.
More than 90 people were injured and more than 100 residents had been rescued, Xinhua reported. A total of 156 families lived in the building, municipal officials said in a statement. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
The Jingan District Hospital said it had taken in 55 injured victims of the fire, nine of whom were in serious condition. Residents told AFP the renovations had begun only recently and believed most inhabitants were still living in the building.
Shanghai television said 61 fire engines had been called in to fight the fire, along with three helicopters. Residents were evacuated to a nearby stadium where rescue officials had set up a command centre, Shanghai television said.