Mumbai (AFP) – A five-story residential block collapsed in Mumbai at daybreak on Friday, killing at least five people and leaving dozens feared trapped inside, in the latest building disaster to hit India’s financial capital.
Rescue workers scrambled to find survivors amid 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.
“My heart is thumping with fear. I’m just hoping,” said tearful housewife Shanta Makwana, whose daughter and grandchildren were trapped inside the building in which she also used to live.
Several diggers were pressed into action to lift some of the larger slabs of concrete, allowing teams of rescuers to begin the task of taking out bodies and searching for those still alive.
One woman was removed covered in dark red patterned cloth 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.
“Figures show five deaths and 27 injured up to 2PM,” Vijay Khabale-Patil, the corporation’s spokesman, told AFP. The injured have been taken to nearby hospitals.
Local politician Bhai Jagtap said that 22 families lived in the destroyed block.
“The rest of the people are down below, calling people from inside. Rescuers are doing their level best to save lives,” he said after visiting the scene.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) also said that 22 families were housed there.
Local commander Alok Avasthy from the NDMA’s response force initially told AFP that up to 70 people were feared trapped.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai said that the building was for employees of the local administration and their families, who 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,” 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.
Two builders and seven others were arrested in connection with the April collapse of the unauthorized and partly finished building.
Three buildings caved in around Mumbai in the month of June alone, killing 25 people between them.
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 shoddily-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. The Guardian newspaper website gathered crime statistics showing that 2,651 people were killed across India in 2012 from the collapse of 2,737 structures, including houses and bridges.