By JOSEPH WILSON and ARITZ PARRA Associated Press
BADALONA, Spain (AP) — Firefighters in northeastern Spain found three bodies in an abandoned industrial complex occupied by migrants and other squatters that caught fire and partially collapsed, while ongoing emergency work assisted by sniffer dogs and drones on Thursday tried to assess if more people were trapped inside.
The fire started late Wednesday in Badalona, a suburban town of 200,000 north of Barcelona, also injured at least 19 people, including three who are in very critical condition, authorities said.
Catalonia’s acting regional president, Pere Aragonès, said that some 60 people have been accounted for so far, but that the four-story group of buildings could had been occupied by more than 100 squatters.
Work was underway to fully extinguish the flames and stabilize the structure to safely access it, Aragonés told Spanish public broadcaster TVE. Several drones and sniffer dogs were being used to look for anyone else who might be trapped in unstable parts of the complex.
One of the survivors, Matiga Thiam, said he had been looking for his close friend since the fire broke in one of the four sections of the complex.
“I don’t know where my brother is,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Thiam found shelter in the complex after he moved from Italy six months ago. He and fellow Senegalese Ousmane Ndiaye, who has been in Spain for 14 years, said they had been surviving on the little money they make collecting scrap metal.
Ndiaye calculated that around 150 people from Senegal, Ghana, Gambia, and other countries were living in the complex because access to housing is difficult, especially for migrants still seeking to regularize their stay in Europe.
“There are many people who do not want to rent a place for you. There are people (in the building) who have work but cannot rent an apartment. And if you don’t have a place to sleep, you come here,” Ndiaye said.
The pair said they couldn’t forget the image they saw as they ran out past the building in flames, with other occupants jumping from windows on the second floor.
“They couldn’t breath,” said Thiam. “If there is a fire, you know that if you don’t jump you will die. You just take a gamble.”
The regional chief said that many occupants were believed to be in Spain without a legal residence permit and had left the scene without being taken care of as soon as they escaped the flames.
“There has been a tragedy above the economic misery in which many of the people already found themselves,” Aragonès said.
The regional interior minister, Miquel Sàmper, said that authorities would investigate if the fire was “fortuitous or intentional.”
Most of the injured were being treated for trauma after they jumped from the building to escape the flames, emergency coordinator Francisco Tebar told TVE. Around 30 people were rescued from windows before the roof collapsed at various points.
The building had been occupied for at least eight years, said Xavier García Albiol, the Badalona mayor, adding that the city hall had started work to empty the building after drug sales and petty thefts increased in the area during the past two years, provoking problems with other neighbors.
Aritz Parra reported from Madrid.
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