Tens of thousands of Iranians poured onto the streets of Tehran on Monday for the funeral of 16 firefighters killed when the city’s oldest high-rise collapsed during a blaze.
Black flags flew outside the Grand Mosalla Mosque, while high-ranking officials including Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, First Vice-President Es’haq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and cabinet ministers and lawmakers joined the emotional funeral procession.
A procession carried the bodies to the capital’s Behesht-e-Zahra Cemetery, where they were laid to rest. Tehran temporary Friday Prayer leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, performed the funeral prayer for the victims.
The 17-story Plasco building, home to a shopping center and hundreds of clothing suppliers, collapsed on Jan. 19 while emergency services were still evacuating people from a huge fire.
It was Tehran’s tallest building when it was completed in 1962.
Despite immediate dispatch of firefighting teams to the premises, the fire raged on for several hours before the structure collapsed, caving in on the firefighters and a number of citizens.
Interior Minister Abdol-Reza Rahmani Fazli said last week that an electrical short circuit was the main cause of the incident.
The bodies of four civilians have also been pulled from the debris, and six more are missing.
The 16 firefighters were buried in the martyrs’ section of the Tehran cemetery.
“We are very thankful for people’s sympathy. We will continue to serve them,” said Mohammad Reza Hamedifar, a firefighter for 22 years.
One tearful onlooker, 27-year-old Tahereh Sheydaei, said: “They gave their lives for us. We see it as our duty to attend.”
On Sunday, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued a message, eulogizing the firefighters.
The disaster sent a shockwave across Iran, topping the news agenda for a week as rescue teams worked round the clock to recover bodies from the rubble.
The owners and city officials have been criticized for failing to prevent the disaster at the building, which, according to the fire brigade, was known to have breached multiple safety regulations.
Tehran’s Fire Department said on the day of the collapse that the Plasco building’s managers had been warned that it was unsafe, with corridors and staircases blocked by goods and no fire extinguishers.
“I hope people’s support will have a positive impact on their wages, working conditions, equipment and low budget,” said Siavash Khazei, 33, a restaurant manager attending the ceremony with his mother.
The disaster was the deadliest in Tehran since 2005, when a fire at a crowded mosque in the city centre killed 59 people.
Plasco tower, the 17-story structure crumbled after fire engulfed the top floors of the building in downtown Tehran on Thursday 19 January 2017 morning as scores of firefighters battled the blaze.
At the time of its construction in the 1960s it was the tallest building in Iran, and was considered an iconic landmark of the Tehran skyline. The building collapsed on during a fire.
The Plasco building was built in 1962, during a decade of rapid growth in Iran. The building was named after his plastics company.