Elderly survivors tell how they cheated death on a night of panic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 November, 2010, 12:00am

After the panic, the reflection.

The dozens fortunate enough to escape one of Shanghai's worst apartment fires in history yesterday had their tales retold by the local media.

The predominantly elderly survivors tearfully recounted how they had cheated death. Some had run, climbed or jumped to safety, and even clung onto precarious scaffolding waiting to be rescued.

One man in his 60s told the Xinmin Evening News how he and his wife had first heard a roaring sound outside their 17th-floor window. 'It sounded like a bulldozer,' he said, adding they had not paid attention to it until an upstairs neighbour had rushed in.

'Her head was all burned black, and her face was covered with ash.'

Some neighbours had climbed out onto the scaffolding but were unable to climb down because of the thick black smoke. The man said he had passed them wet towels, and tried to find another way out.

'I used my phone to get some light, and realised we were in the water meter room outside our door,' he said. 'The air was a little better there.'

The couple waited an hour 'thinking of nothing at all' before they heard the cries of firefighters looking for survivors.

Another resident from the seventh floor broke down in tears as he described how his family had escaped from the building relatively unscathed - including his in-laws, both in their 90s.

'We raced out as fast as we could,' he said. Although he and his wife had been able to help only his 93-year-old mother- in-law, neighbours helped carry her bedridden husband - two years her senior.

'We got separated on the way down but managed to meet again outside,' the resident said. 'People wanted to go back into the building, but I wouldn't let them.'