Migrant hailed after saving wheelchair-bound man from burning building in Spain

by Reuters
Wednesday, 11 December 2019 19:53 GMT

Neighbours save a man from a burning apartment in Denia, Spain December 6, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken December 6, 2019. Roberta Etter/via REUTERS

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The story drew comparisons with the migrant from Mali who last year scaled a Paris apartment block to save a boy dangling from a fourth-floor balcony

By Ashifa Kassam

MADRID, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Spanish authorities said on Wednesday they are considering giving residency to an undocumented migrant from Senegal after he rescued a wheelchair-bound man from a burning, second-story apartment.

Street vendor Gorgui Lamine Sow was walking the streets of the coastal city of Denia on Friday when he heard screams coming from nearby.

He rushed over to a crowd watching black smoke pouring out of a second floor window. "They told me there was a man trapped inside the apartment," the 20-year-old told Reuters. "I didn't think about it. I just dropped my things and started climbing."

He scaled the balcony, entering the burning apartment as smoke filled the street. Once inside he hoisted the resident over his shoulders and carried him down a ladder set up by a neighbour.

Local media identified the victim as 39-year-old Alex Caudeli Webster.

"If Gorgui had not pulled Alex to safety when he did then Alex would not have survived," neighbour Roberta Etter said. "Gorgui literally saved his life."

As emergency officials neared the scene, the rescuer panicked. "If the police saw me they would confiscate my goods," said Sow, who lives with his girlfriend and seven-month-old daughter in the nearby city of Gandia. "And if they take them from me, we're not eating tomorrow."

After ensuring the man he had rescued was okay, he picked up the bracelets and necklaces he was selling and left the scene.

The story of the dramatic rescue made waves across the country, drawing comparisons with the migrant from Mali who last year scaled a Paris apartment block to save a boy dangling from a fourth-floor balcony.

Others depicted Sow as a counterpoint to the anti-immigrant messaging being pushed by far-right party Vox, which surged to third place in parliament in last month's national elections.

Sow found out days later that neighbours were hailing him as a hero. "I'm just happy that the man is fine," he said, adding that the man he rescued was treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

As news spread of the rescue, local authorities urged the central government to consider giving him residency. A source with the government delegation in Valencia confirmed they are studying his case.

Residency would make life much easier, said Sow, who arrived in Spain in 2017, allowing him the chance to find work besides selling goods on the street.

"There are people who, when I try to show them stuff, they don't look at me, they won't talk to me," he said. "It's really difficult to do this job."

(Additional reporting by Elena Rodriguez; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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