By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A twenty-four story high-rise burned and collapsed during the early morning of May 1st, in the center of São Paulo city, leaving at least one dead and dozens of families homeless. According to authorities the building was occupied by squatters seeking shelter.

Brazil, São Paulo,Twenty-four story building caught fire and collapsed in the early morning of May 1st in São Paulo,
Twenty-four story building caught fire and collapsed in the early morning of May 1st in São Paulo, photo courtesy of SP Fire Brigade.

“I was sleeping, I woke up my husband shouting ‘fire, fire, fire.'” I took my son and left, I could not save his documents, I could save only mine,” a woman named Crivalda said to a TV reporter at the scene.

The woman along with her husband and son lived in the building for the past year. She admitted knowing that the building offered serious safety risks but said her family had nowhere else to go, “I was afraid but I could not live anywhere else.”

The city’s Social Welfare Secretary, Filipe Sabará, told GloboNews that 90 families, and a total of 248 people, were in the building at the time of the fire. Officials say they do not know if all were able to leave.

There have been unconfirmed reports that there were people on the top floors when the building collapsed.

Military police say that the building belonged to the federal government and was home to squatters. Officials admit that more than 150 unsafe buildings in São Paulo are in the same situation, housing families of squatters who have nowhere to go.

São Paulo governor, Marcio França, went to the site early Tuesday morning and told a TV news crew that these buildings are hazardous to live in. “They (squatters) throw garbage through the elevator pit and that trash accumulates, creating automatic combustion. With a little fire it becomes a tragedy, like today,” he said.

With the collapse of the building part of a nearby church also was destroyed. Firefighters are expected to spend the day looking through the rubble in search of missing tenants.

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