‘Occupied’ sao paulo high rise collapses amid fire, 1 dead gas monkey monster truck driver

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At the moment the building fell, a firefighter atop a neighbouring building had been trying to save someone from the upper floors. TV images showed the person clinging to the building’s side, while apparently also attached to a rope that the firefighter was holding. Then the wall the person was clinging to started to fall away, taking the person with it. The floors of the burning building collapsed like dominoes, while debris flew in all directions, and a giant fireball briefly filled the street.

By late Tuesday morning, several families who had fled were camping out in front of a nearby church, where neighbours and local businesses were dropping off supplies including bags of bread, milk, bottles of water and even some used clothing and shoes.

Lohany Michely, 37, said she was asleep with her boyfriend and dog in their apartment on the third floor of the building when she began hearing people outside yell about a fire. Seeing smoke, the couple left with their dog, then watched the building collapse about 45 minutes later.

The fire was in an area known as "Centro," which is Sao Paulo’s historic downtown. It began emptying out in the 1970s and 1908s after several fires broke out and another business district developed. These days, the neighbourhood is on the cusp of a comeback and is equal parts dilapidated and edgy. Several city administrations have led campaigns aimed at beautifying and redeveloping the area, which now hosts most of the city’s homeless and has numerous blocks occupied by crack addicts.

The fire is sure to put a spotlight on the occupations, which are led by highly organized fair-housing groups that take over and then fight for ownership. Many such dwellings are run like regular apartment buildings, with doormen and residents paying monthly fees. Others are less established and more precarious.

In a July 2017 story on the occupations , The Associated Press reported that around 350 families were living in the former police headquarters. Local media on Tuesday reported that between 50 and 150 were currently living there, underscoring the sometimes fluid nature of such makeshift dwellings.

Junior Rocha, who is a co-ordinator for an organization that runs three downtown occupations, said the group takes precautions to avoid tragedies by annually changing the cable that brings electricity to buildings, placing extinguishers on every floor and telling residents to evacuate if they have the smallest doubt there is a problem.

The authorities "are going to use this as a way to pressure our movements to leave these buildings," he said. "The state is acting as if us, the occupiers, us, from the movements, are responsible for this. We’re not responsible, the system is at fault."

Doria argued the downtown should be a showcase for South America’s largest city, the engine of Brazil’s economy and one of the hemisphere’s most important financial centres. Fair-housing activists, on the other hand, argue that the area could offer affordable housing to tens of thousands of people.

"We will provide assistance to the victims of this disaster," said Temer, who has been charged with corruption and has approval ratings in the single digits. He did not provide details and was whisked away by security as several people shouted obscenities at him.