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42 perish in Shanghai apartment block blaze

Fire engulfed a high-rise apartment building under renovation in China's business centre of Shanghai yesterday, killing 42 people and sending residents scrambling down scaffolding to escape, city authorities said.

The official Xinhua news agency cited a witness saying the fire began when building materials had caught fire. The blaze spread to scaffolding and then to the 28-storey apartment block itself.

More than 100 fire trucks were called to battle the blaze and streams of water could be seen flowing into the building. The fire was largely extinguished four hours later. Firefighters could be seen removing bodies from the building. Earlier reports put the death toll at eight, but last night the figure had risen to 42, the Shanghai government said in a statement.

Photographs posted on the internet showed a man clinging to the scaffolding. A resident identified as Mr Zhou told Hong Kong broadcaster Phoenix TV that he and his wife were napping in their 23rd-floor apartment when they smelled smoke. He said they climbed four storeys down the scaffolding before being rescued.

At one point helicopters could be seen hovering over the building, and witnesses said at least one resident was rescued that way, but thick smoke hampered further efforts.

The city government said that 100 people were rescued, but it was not clear if those included injured people.

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