19th April 2024
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Valencia falls silent to pay tribute to victims of residential high-rise inferno

Hundreds of people observed five minutes of silence in the city of Valencia on Saturday to honour the 10 victims of a huge fire that ripped through a residential high-rise two days earlier. The city was set to observe three days of mourning over the tragedy. ALSO READ: 10 dead after fire destroys residential high-rise in Valencia.

As the clock struck midday, the large crowd gathered outside city hall fell silent, some wearing dark glasses to mask red eyes, while others wiped away tears as they recalled the victims of the terrible blaze that began just before nightfall on Thursday. 

At the end, onlookers broke into spontaneous applause as officials embraced family members who lost loved ones in the tragedy, their faces drawn with exhaustion, shock and sorrow.

‘There are no words to describe the pain this city feels at this moment, and all Valencians are sharing in this pain with this moment of silence and respect,’ said Mayor María José Catalá

Experts said the building was covered with highly flammable cladding, which could account for the rapid spread of the blaze which gutted the 14-storey high-rise and an adjoining 10-storey block which together housed 138 flats

The blaze spread like lightning, the flames quickly visible in every window, sending clouds of black smoke high into the air over the western Campanar district, dramatic footage showed.

Neighbours described seeing the rapid evolution of the flames, with residents stuck on balconies and children screaming. Those left homeless from the fire, including many Ukrainian refugees who lived in the large residential complex, were initially given refuge in city hotels but were expected to be moved to other accommodation over the weekend.

By Friday evening, rescuers had found nine bodies, but earlier on Saturday police forensic experts found another body inside the charred wreckage, the Spanish government’s delegation in Valencia wrote on X (formerly Twitter), saying the discovery ‘raised to 10 the total number of bodies found inside the building’. 

Delegation representative Pilar Bernabé told reporters that all the people reported missing had now been accounted for, with experts now starting on the ‘complex’ task of identifying the dead. 

‘We will keep looking,’ she said, but ‘the number of victims we’ve found corresponds with the number of people listed as missing.’ 

Identification of the victims ‘will be complicated because they will need to be identified with DNA tests’, she said, in a nod to the absolute voracity of the fire, indicating it was not possible to say how long that would take. 

The fire broke out around 5:30pm in one of the flats on the middle floors and within 30 minutes the blaze had consumed the entire building, no thanks to high winds of more than 50 kilometres per hour which also complicated firefighting efforts.

Such was the heat that the firemen could not enter the building and had to work only from the outside, managing to pluck a father and his daughter to safety from one of the upper balconies. 

They were only able to enter the blackened ruin of the residential block on Friday, smoke still wafting from its shattered windows and the once-white façade charred with the residue of smoke and flames.

Fifteen people were treated for injuries of varying degrees, including a seven-year-old child and seven firefighters, but their lives were not in danger.

A top official from Valencia’s Industrial Engineers Association said the fire had spread rapidly because the building was covered with highly combustible polyurethane cladding.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the site of the fire in Valencia on Friday, where he thanked the firefighters and emergency services, and expressed his government’s support for the families and victims of the fire.

‘On behalf of the Government I want to convey our solidarity, affection and empathy to the families of the victims,’ said Sánchez. ‘I want to thank the public servants for their outstanding work, even risking their lives. We are here to help you, to show our commitment and the solidarity of Spanish society as a whole.’

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