At least six people have been killed and dozens more are feared trapped after a 10-story building collapsed in Iran’s southwestern city of Abadan on Monday, according to authorities.
The head of the local branch of the Red Crescent said 32 people have been rescued from under the rubble so far, with 27 being taken to local hospitals.
Large parts of the commercial Metropol building, located in the busiest street at the centre of the city, were reduced to rubble, and officials told state television up to 80 people may still be trapped.
Rescue dogs, helicopters, vehicles, and personnel have been mobilised from across several provinces to assist with the ongoing rescue operation. Those include 80 forces from Tehran, namely 50 firefighters and rescuers to assist operations on the ground and 30 emergency responders to provide aerial assistance.
But the climate and weather are proving a real obstacle as images and videos from the site show dense, orange clouds of dust and pollutants permeating the air on a hot day reaching temperatures of about 45 degrees Celsius.
Shahriar Asgari, a spokesperson for the local environment protection department, told the semi-official ISNA news website that the density of pollutants and dust in the city was more than 42 times the permitted limit on Monday. The situation was no better in other cities across the oil-rich Khuzestan Province.
Khuzestan and provinces across Iran have sporadically faced dust storms and pollutants in recent years, but the number and intensity of pollution events have increased in recent weeks. Authorities blame a mix of local drought issues and excessive dam construction by neighbouring countries.
State television on Monday showed aerial footage of the destruction of Metropol, which has also damaged residential buildings and shops close to the collapsed building.
One clip also showed a group of angered citizens shouting at local municipality officials present at the scene. Others were watching the rescue operation in horror and desperation. Unconfirmed reports on social media said anti-riot police closed off adjacent streets in the hours following the collapse.
President Ebrahim Raisi, who was in Oman for a state visit at the time of the incident, in addition to his first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, issued orders for local officials to immediately devote their resources to helping rescue operations.
The governor of Khuzestan, Sadegh Khalilian, said in a statement that two individuals have been arrested in relation to the collapse of the building, without naming them.
The building had been near completion, but was still partly under construction, according to authorities. Inspectors had reportedly issued safety warnings months prior to Metropol’s collapse.