You are here

Valencia falls silent to recall housing block inferno victims

By AFP - Feb 24,2024 - Last updated at Feb 24,2024

Officials attend a minute of silence during a tribute two days after a huge fire that raged through a multistorey residential block killing ten people, in Valencia on Saturday (AFP photo)

VALENCIA, Spain — Hundreds of people observed five minutes of silence in the Mediterranean port city of Valencia on Saturday to honour the 10 victims of a huge fire that ripped through a residential high-rise two days earlier. 

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 Maria Jose Catala. 

By Friday evening, rescuers had found nine bodies, but discovered another on Saturday morning, officials said as the city observed three days of mourning over the tragedy. 

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. 

“It was just horrifying. I live in that neighbourhood and it was very close, I saw the whole thing from the street,” 60-year-old Concha Lopez told AFP outside the town hall, her voice breaking as she wiped away tears. 

“These people have lost everything.”

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.

“I get goosebumps just thinking about it, and it happened again during the minute of silence,” said 75-year-old Sara Navia. 

“It’s just terrible. We’ve got to help these people in any way we can because they’ve been left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Adrian Sobrino Moral, a 33-year-old factory worker, said it was hard to take in just how much the victims had lost in such a short space of time. 

“Just imagine leaving home to go to work then on your way back, the neighbours call to say your flat is on fire, that’s really tough. You spend your whole life working to save money then you lose everything and are suddenly left in the street,” he told AFPTV. 

“Nobody should have to go through that.”

Earlier, police forensic experts found another body inside the wreckage, the Spanish government’s delegation in Valencia wrote on X, saying the discovery “raised to 10 the total number of bodies found inside the building”. 

Delegation representative Pilar Bernabe 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 (1630 GMT) 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 facade 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.

up
42 users have voted.


Newsletter

Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.

PDF