At least 65 people were killed late Monday when a building collapsed in a densely populated area of New Delhi and rescuers expect the death toll to rise. Investigators said the multi-storey structure may have been weakened by recent flooding.
AFP - At least 65 people were killed when a building that housed scores of migrant families collapsed in New Delhi, as rescuers Tuesday made slow progress through the rubble.
Investigators believe the five-storey building in a working class area of eastern Delhi, which caved in late Monday, had been weakened by recent flooding brought on by some of the strongest monsoon rains in decades.
The site of the structure, now a crumpled heap of concrete resembling the aftermath of an earthquake, lies next to the Yamuna river, which burst its banks in September and October.
"There are many victims still trapped below the concrete rubble and iron rods. Our challenge is to evacuate them alive," city police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told AFP.
"We can confirm that 65 people are dead," he added, saying 105 were being treated in hospital. He said the number of people missing was unknown.
Throughout the night and early morning, rescuers and locals pulled out severely injured people and corpses, with victims including several children who were carried away on stretchers to nearby ambulances.
The congested and narrow streets of the Lalita Park area of Laxmi Nagar made it difficult to bring in heavy lifting equipment, meaning rescue services relied on sledgehammers and a few hydraulic drills.
Witnesses said they heard shouts for help from under the debris.
"The building fell like a pack of cards. I saw people high up hanging on to remaining bits of the walls. Some were trying to jump out but they couldn't, others were trapped," Gurwinder Singh, a local taxi driver, told AFP.
Girija Devi, a mother of four who worked at a tailor's workshop in the building, said: "I was pulled out last night by some of the neighbours but my sister is still stuck below the debris."
Police tried to cordon off the site from distraught relatives.
"Everything is finished. My life is over," screamed Shefali Haldar, who lost her brother, sister-in-law and niece.
The building contained dozens of cramped, one-room flats mainly rented by families from the states of West Bengal and Bihar, as well as some small businesses including a cloth exporting company and a food snacks group.
As many as 10 people lived in each flat, paying about 50 dollars a month in rent, local people said. They added that a sixth floor was being built, raising another possible cause of the collapse.
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit suggested the building might have been an unauthorised construction, and officials said an inquiry had been launched into the disaster.
"I think it is the carelessness of the builder who did not build a strong enough building to withstand a flood that came about a month ago," she told the NDTV news channel.
Witnesses at the scene told AFP that the basement of the building was flooded in October and the water was never drained out.
Mohammad Dilawar, 32, said that 34 young labourers from his village, Sikhtiya in Bihar, were still missing.
The owner of the building, a businessman who owns a cement factory, was arrested and charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, police said.
Enforcement of building regulations is lax in the Indian capital and minor accidents are common. The construction industry is also riddled with corruption, leading to the use of substandard materials.
The much-delayed and over-budget Delhi Commonwealth Games in October shone an unflattering light on many industry practices.
An investigation by India's leading anti-corruption body concluded that sub-standard concrete and anti-corrosion coatings for steel had been used in a host of public works, while safety certificates also appeared to have been faked.
Date created : 2010-11-16