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One Dead, 29 Hurt In Fire That Guts Historic District Of Libson

August 25, 1988

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ A fire today destroyed much of Lisbon’s historic shopping district, killed one person and injured 29 before firemen brought it under control 10 hours after it began in a 19th century department store.

Maj. Anibal Matos Silveira, the official coordinating more than 800 firemen at the scene, told reporters that the Chiado shopping district would ″continue to smolder″ for another day.

President Mario Soares, who toured the 10-square-block area four hours after the fire broke out in the Armazens do Grandela department store on the Rua do Carmo pedestrian mall, said one man was killed.

Spokeswoman Ersilia Soares at San Jose Hospital said 29 people were being treated for burns and smoke inhalation, and six were in serious condition.

The Portuguese news agency LUSA said the fire was Lisbon’s worst disaster since a fire and earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1755.

LUSA earlier quoted fire officials as saying they didn’t have enough water to fight the blaze. Firemen with sooty faces complained that pressure was too low to get the water to the upper stories where the flames leapt from one building to another.

Silveira said the shells of the burned-out, five- and six-story buildings on Rua do Carmo, Rua Garrett, Rua Nova do Almada and Rua Sacramento may collapse.

The fire also destroyed Grandes Armazens do Chiado, Lisbon’s other department store, and numerous speciality shops that had been a fixture of Lisbon’s commercial life for the past 150 years.

The fire reportedly began around 5 a.m.

Officials said they did not know what caused it, but Lisbon residents were awakened by explosions of bottled gas in the stores.

Officials at the scene said hundreds of people were left homeless by the fire and ″at least 2,000″ were out of jobs. No exact figures were available.

The Grandela and Chiado department stores were among the oldest in Western Europe with wooden floors and stairways and old-fashioned booths for cashiers. They had no sprinkler systems.

The Chiado district is next to Lisbon’s central Rossio Square 10 blocks in from the Tagus River estuary. It forms a part of the city rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal after the 1755 disaster.

Soares, viewing the flames pouring from buildings on the rua do Carmo from the platform of the 19th century Santa Justa elevator built by Gustave Eiffel, said the fire was a ″catastrophe.″

Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva, an economist, told reporters at the scene the city faced an ″enormous task of reconstruction.″

″We are indebted to the firemen, and now we have to get down to work to rebuild this area,″ Cavaco said.

Regular Lisbon firemen were joined by volunteer companies from surrounding areas. Radio stations called on firemen on their annual August holidays to return immediately to Lisbon.

Virgilo Madeira, a 67-year-old florist, looked out on Rua Garrett as flames swept up the street toward his tiny Pequeno Jardim flower shop.

″In all the 50 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such a thing,″ he said. ″But I’m not leaving. I have nowhere to go.″

Police ordered residents of the area to evacuate their homes as firemen dragged orange hoses up old wooden staircases and onto the red tile roofs.

Old women in black huddled in doorways holding dogs and cats in their arms, and men in suits and ties slipped down the wet, cobbled streets carrying parakeets in cages.

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