22-year-old Angela Medeiros was one of the lucky ones. She survived the blazing inferno that ravaged the forty-storey Torres building in downtown Sao Paolo. At least thirty people are  known to have lost their lives in the fire that raged for over twelve 5 hours. The final count is expected to be far higher as desperate relatives try to locate missing members of their families.

Angela was indeed lucky to survive. She worked on the twentieth floor, just three floors above where the fire is believed to have started as a result of an electrical fault in an air-conditioner. Her first impression that something was wrong was when she saw a column of thick black smoke rising past the window of her office. “There was no sound of an alarm or anything,” she said. “Just the cries of people screaming and running all over the place. It was terrible. My first thought was to cover myself with water, and I rushed to the bathroom. It was a very strange reaction. When I came out there was no one in the office; I was the only one there.”

A survivor of the fire
Survivor of the fire


What followed was a nightmare. She tried to get to the emergency staircase, but by this time the smoke was too thick and she knew that she could either stay where she was or make an attempt to reach the roof, twenty floors above, where there was a helicopter landing-pad. She decided to stay where she was and managed to open a window and struggle out onto a ledge. It was then that she realised that she was probably safe. The fire had passed through her floor and although flames were everywhere, she could at least breathe.

Her instinct told  her to stay where she was and wait for rescue. “Somewhere I had read that the new ladders on the fire engines could be extended to reach the twentieth floor,” she explained. “I hoped it was true!” What happened over the next seven hours defies description. She witnessed people desperately throwing themselves out of the windows of the floors above her. She admits that she was tempted to do the same. She was afraid that no one would see her and that she would not be able to hold on. “I just prayed, and thought of my mother and father and the family, and about the holiday we were going to have in two weeks’ time.”

 She was rescued after someone in the crowd below alerted firemen to the small figure huddled against a ledge in a corner of the twentieth storey. “I saw the ladder moving up towards me,” said Angela, “but I must have lost consciousness, because that’s the last thing I remember. The next thing I recall was waking up in the ambulance.”

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