Mumbai (AFP) – A five-story residential block collapsed in Mumbai at daybreak on Friday, killing at least seven people and trapping dozens, in the latest building disaster to hit India’s financial capital.
By sunset rescue workers managed to pull out more than 40 survivors from the debris of the flattened block, owned by the city’s civic administrative body, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, in the east of the city.
Several diggers were pressed into action to lift some of the larger slabs of concrete, allowing teams of rescuers wielding heavy equipment to take out bodies and search for those still alive.
Seven bodies were recovered, with rescuers also pulling out 22 injured people — all sent to local hospitals — and another 20 unharmed, corporation spokesman Vijay Khabale-Patil told AFP.
About 11 hours after the collapse, a young girl was pulled alive from the rubble to applause from the crowds. Another man was later rescued to shouts of praise for a popular Hindu god.
It was unclear how many remained trapped, but local officials said 22 families were housed in the block.
“Work is still going on,” said Khabale-Patil, adding that the final tally of dead and injured was still not known.
“My heart is thumping with fear. I’m just hoping,” said a tearful housewife, Shanta Makwana, whose daughter and grandchildren were trapped inside the building in which she also used to live.
One woman covered in dark red patterned cloth was removed earlier in the day and carried to a waiting ambulance on a stretcher. Crowds of women waiting nearby could be heard sobbing.
A crushed teddy bear and a dismantled gas stove were among the items poking out from the rubble.
“Rescuers are doing their level best to save lives,” said local politician Bhai Jagtap after visiting the scene.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai said that its employees and their families were housed in the structure and had been asked to leave earlier this year.
“The building was around 30 years old. We had issued a notice to them in April, to vacate the building, but they did not act,” spokesman Khabale-Patil said.
He did not explain why the families had been asked to leave.
“My uncle and aunt have been staying here for years. I rushed here after hearing the news on TV. But the police are not telling us anything. We are just waiting,” said receptionist Neha Jagdale.
Five other blocks have collapsed in or close to Mumbai in recent months, including one in April that killed 74 people.
Three buildings caved in during the month of June alone, killing 25 people between them. The monsoon season’s heavy rains are thought to have exacerbated structural problems.
The incidents have highlighted poor quality construction and violations of the building code, caused by massive demand for housing and endemic corruption.
The high cost of property in Mumbai and surrounding areas pushes many low-paid families, especially newly arrived migrants from other parts of India, into often illegal and badly built homes.
More than half of the city’s residents live in slums, while across India the urban housing shortage was estimated at nearly 19 million households in 2012.
Falling buildings are a nationwide problem. British daily The Guardian gathered statistics showing that 2,651 people were killed across India in 2012 from the collapse of 2,737 structures, including houses and bridges.